This chlorinate-everything call is one more flag we have moved ever further from the clean and green New Zealand we espouse. It takes us farther from the country I grew up in, believing I was incredibly lucky to be born in the cleanest country on the globe, toward a country trashed just like the rest.
The New Zealand where we must swim in and drink chlorinated water is an unwelcome and unnecessary development revealing a complete failure by successive governments and I hope its advent does not go unchallenged.
I am not opposing the chlorination of drinking water, what I am opposing is that we let it get to the stage that water needs this treatment. I am angry at this ambulance at the bottom of the cliff response. The fence at the top is the protection of our drinking water catchments.
It is what we do in catchments at a landscape scale that leads to water contamination. In urban areas, it is also what we do not do when we fail to maintain sewage infrastructure.
The crucial point that often gets lost in arguments around protecting catchments is that it is a win-win for farmers as well as urban and rural communities. Looking after catchments has many benefits, from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to tourism gains and making rivers swimmable again.
It is the faecal oral pathway for pathogens that is the problem, thus, the more untreated waste from large animals (including humans) in the catchment the higher the potential for problems.
The Havelock North water crisis emphasised for most New Zealanders the crucial value of trustworthy, safe, clean water coming out of our taps. Until recently this was something we blithely took for granted.
Havelock North and its resulting enquiry led to Water New Zealand calling for chlorination of all water supplies with almost no mention, at least in the media, that contamination has been happening nationally at a smaller scale for a few decades, and no mention of the causes.
In the Havelock case, it was thought to be localised to the area close to the bore shaft, in most others it is a general contamination of shallow bore water by faecal infiltration, especially in intensively farmed areas with porous soils like rural Canterbury.
The drinking water crises on top of many drinking water scares all around New Zealand in recent decades has undoubtedly been a boon for water bottlers and retailers. No doubt, it is also great for water chlorinating businesses and public swimming pools patronage must go up as more rivers become unswimmable.
A select few business, many of them members of Water New Zealand, are flourishing from the warnings on drinking water safety and the proliferation of warning signs at our rivers and beaches. This highlights the stupidity of our economic system, where causing the problem and providing a solution that we must pay for is good for business and GDP.
The pressure to buy bottled water driven by tap water taste or fear of contamination exposes another glaring injustice. That is, the water we buy in plastic bottles is the same water we generously gave to the corporates who bottle it to sell back to us.
In most cases we give it to them for 35 years for the token price of processing their consent application, and they sell it back to us at a price more expensive than petrol and thus, unaffordable for many.
So we give away the best water – from the deep bores, not yet contaminated – and the domestic and private water supplies are mostly from shallower groundwater, the first places to show contamination from what we do on the land.
Think about this the next hot day you take your children swimming in a chlorinated swimming pool, because your beach or river is no longer safe to swim for swimming.
Think about it while you sit there watching the kids while sipping on chlorinated water from the tap, or water from a plastic bottle, unchlorinated because the corporation that sold it to you got it from our clean deep water aquifers for free.
Maybe you will munch on a Tip-Top icecream that came from Spain.
Then maybe you will question the total failure of successive governments, central and regional, to protect our fresh waters and maybe get angry enough to demand change?
* Dr Mike Joy is a senior lecturer in environmental science at Massey University, Palmerston North.
Big Irrigation a blooming bad idea for NZ’s rivers
Big Irrigation a blooming bad idea for NZ’s rivers
Friday, 26 Jan – Greenpeace is warning there’ll be many more toxic algal blooms and rivers drying up around New Zealand if controversial irrigation schemes are allowed to go ahead.
Earlier this week, swimmers and pet owners were warned away from Canterbury’s Hurunui river due to a toxic algal bloom (1). Further south in Otago, swimmers found little to no water even left in several rivers (2).
Greenpeace campaigner, Genevieve Toop, says it is every New Zealander’s right to swim in clean rivers.
“Big irrigation schemes, which drive expansion of intensive dairying, will lead to more dry riverbeds and more toxic algal blooms,” she says.
“Big Irrigation is a double whammy for our rivers. It sucks water out of them and uses it, primarily to drive intensive dairying, which in return refills those same rivers with pollution from too many cows”
New Zealand’s dairy herd produces over 150 million litres of nitrogen rich urine each day, some of which flows into rivers and seeps into groundwater (3). This excess nitrogen in our rivers and lakes stimulates algal growth.
“The only serious solution to dairy pollution is fewer cows, which is why the new Government must stick to its promise to cut irrigation funding,” says Toop.
The new Government has promised it will no longer support Big Irrigation, however reports indicate that Crown Irrigation Investments has not yet been directed to stop writing cheques to proposed new irrigation projects (4).
“Our rivers are already under major stress thanks to existing irrigation and intensive dairying. We urgently need the Government to put their promises into effect and end public funding for irrigation,” says Toop
The CEO of Landcorp, the country’s largest farmer, recently wrote an op-ed advocating for fewer cows and a transition to more sustainable farming (5).
“It’s not only the environment sector advocating for a transformation of our farming, but Landcorp – New Zealand’s biggest farmer – is the latest voice to join the growing chorus of New Zealander’s advocating for fewer cows,” says Toop.
Do you remember the Mt. Erebus disaster ? Do you remember that brave man, Justice Peter Mahon ? The man whose comment about Air New Zealand’s ” orchestrated litany of lies” is enshrined in our Kiwi vernacular now ? Here is his sculptor son, Sam, talking about the Water Wars in New Zealand. VERY MOVING. VERY POWERFUL. VERY SAD.
“One dairy farm puts down the pumps and they don’t just suck out the water, they suck out all the memories, all that background to our lives. You try and tell me that irrigation for private gain is good for us, good for the country….you’re going to take a lot of time to convince me” – Sam Mahon
We need to turn this around before all our lakes and rivers are destroyed.