Freshwater gets conference debate flowing

01 Jul 2011

New Zealand’s rivers and lakes and the native species that rely on them are facing a growing crisis that needs to be turned around urgently, our annual conference was told late last month.

Freshwater Ecologist, Mike Joy

Freshwater Ecologist, Mike Joy

The focus of the conference was “Freshwater for Life”  , so a variety of speakers took to the stage to discuss freshwater management including academics,  officials, politicians, industry spokespeople and economics commentators. 

Freshwater ecologist Mike Joy  was one of the first speakers to kick off the conference.

He spoke passionately about the degradation of New Zealand's freshwater.

“You might have noticed I’m angry”  he said.  He structured his speech around five myths around our environment. They were:

• New Zealand is clean and green
• Biodiversity is looked after by central government
• We are 100% Pure compared with the rest of the world
• Dairy farming in New Zealand is sustainable
• The Resource Management Act protects the environment

Mike said 35 percent of our native species are threatened with extinction and 68 percent of our identified ecosystems are classed as threatened.

“The golden goose for our tourism and exports is the “100% Pure” branding. Well, I reckon our goose is cooked,” he told the conference.

“We need an inquiry into the true value of the intensification of farming to New Zealand. I think we have been sold a pup. When we lose our clean, green image we don’t have anything else to fall back on.”

Fonterra Sustainability Field Team Manager Emma Parsons then told the conference the Clean Streams Accord, involving Fonterra, local authorities and the agriculture and environment ministries had prodded farmers into managing their effluent but more commitment was needed to improve their nutrient management.

She said there was a demand from Fonterra’s customers that the company focus on  sustainability and more programmes had been introduced to promote sustainable practices.

Forest & Bird's Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell said NGOs are representing the public interest in freshwater issues and were able to hold authorities to account, to say “these are our water resources and we demand they are managed better.”

Economic commentator Rod Oram said proposals for 14 major water storage projects to more than double the amount of irrigated land in New Zealand did not make a lot of economic sense and would produce a relatively low rate of return of only 6.4 percent overall.

Lastly, Ken Hughey of Lincoln University said his survey of environmental perception showed people valued being able to swim, drink and enjoy water. The survey also showed between 2000 and 2010, the number of people who perceived farming to be a major cause of damage to freshwater grew from 20 percent to 50 percent.