Some New Zealand rivers may never recover: Chief scientist

by Kate Gudsell / 12 April, 2017
RelatedArticlesModule - Waterways
Some of NZ's waterways have gone beyond a tipping point, according to a new report. Photo / Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images

Efforts to clean up New Zealand's waterways may be too little, too late.

The state of some of the country's waterways have gone beyond a tipping point, according to a report from the Prime Minister's chief scientist.

Some will take more than 50 years to recover, and even then they will never get back to their original state.

The report said the science was clear: New Zealand's fresh waters were under stress because of what we did in and around them.

While some water bodies were in a good state, others have been significantly compromised by agricultural intensification, urban expansion and industrial pollution, hydroelectric development, or the effects of drought.

Sir Peter Gluckman said his report was designed to explain the complexities of the issue, as well as the multiple trade-offs and decisions that were needed.

"We all want [the water system] to be clean but then we all want to be able to have hydroelectric power, we want to have economic growth around farming and so forth.

"There's all sorts of contradictions in here."

Restoration activities, such as riparian planting and fencing waterways, were being undertaken on many catchments but may take more than half a century to reach the desired outcome, because there were often legacy effects, exacerbated by new urban or agricultural developments.

Where restoration had occurred, this was generally not to the original state, nor could it be, the report said.

Sir Peter said how far waterways could be improved would be a function of time, effort and resource.

"Land use has irreversibly changed large hunks of New Zealand in ways which will effect the ecosystems that the water's running through, but we can certainly get the water to a high level of quality and with very functional ecosystems within them."

Green Party water spokesperson Catherine Delahunty said Sir Peter's report highlighted the problems with current land uses, particularly agricultural.

"It's clear that he acknowledges that we have gone beyond the tipping point in some of our river systems and that further agricultural development is going to exacerbate poor water quality and it could take a long time to rectify."

The Labour Party's environment spokesperson, David Parker, said the report showed that the problem with deteriorating water quality was not under control.

"The report as a whole is another acknowledgement we've got these serious challenges for water quality, not just in our rivers but also our lakes."

Submissions on the government's clean water policy close at the end of this month and Sir Peter hoped this report would help inform public thinking on the issues facing freshwater.

This article was originally published by RNZ.

Latest

Give Kate A Voice: Bringing Kate Sheppard's speeches to life
96352 2018-09-19 00:00:00Z History

Give Kate A Voice: Bringing Kate Sheppard's speech…

by Noted

Famous Kiwi women read the powerful words of Kate Sheppard, who fought for the right for women to vote.

Read more
Fémmina: The story of NZ's unsung suffrage provocateur Mary Ann Müller
96479 2018-09-19 00:00:00Z History

Fémmina: The story of NZ's unsung suffrage provoca…

by Cathie Bell

Mary Ann Müller was fighting for women’s rights before Kate Sheppard even arrived here, but her pioneering contribution to the cause is little known.

Read more
Ian McKellen charms his way through a documentary about his life
96472 2018-09-19 00:00:00Z Movies

Ian McKellen charms his way through a documentary …

by James Robins

Joe Stephenson’s tender documentary Playing the Part looks at McKellen's life as an actor, activist and perpetual wizard.

Read more
The case for closing prisons
96403 2018-09-18 00:00:00Z Social issues

The case for closing prisons

by Paul Little

If we want a prison system that does a better job than the current one, alternatives aren’t hard to find.

Read more
Jennifer Curtin: The feminist political scientist mixing rugby with politics
96422 2018-09-18 00:00:00Z Profiles

Jennifer Curtin: The feminist political scientist …

by Clare de Lore

Australian-New Zealander Jennifer Curtin says the lopsided nature of the Bledisloe Cup pales in comparison to the slump in transtasman relations.

Read more
Don McGlashan is out of the attic and taking flight
96439 2018-09-18 00:00:00Z Music

Don McGlashan is out of the attic and taking fligh…

by James Belfield

Don McGlashan is taking some old unloved songs on his New Zealand tour.

Read more
Are We There Yet? is the exhibition marking 125 years of women's suffrage in NZ
95961 2018-09-18 00:00:00Z Arts

Are We There Yet? is the exhibition marking 125 ye…

by Linda Herrick

The exhibition at Auckland Museum shows there is still ground to make up.

Read more
Mr Wiki: Mike Dickison is NZ's first Wikipedian at large
96030 2018-09-18 00:00:00Z Tech

Mr Wiki: Mike Dickison is NZ's first Wikipedian at…

by Elisabeth Easther

The entomologist will work on outreach programmes and recruiting editors to improve the sparse coverage of New Zealand topics.

Read more