Water: how much and how clean

Where the Manuherekia joins the Clutha.

Water is a major issue for Otago.

With most of the population living on the coast, there is little awareness of human impact on water in our favourite recreational areas.

For most of us water is where we recreate. We ignore the effects of sewerage, of stormwater. We do not understand what infrastructure brings water to our household taps, until it breaks down. It is the invisible essential.

Our ignorance of water has contributed to its steady degradation and growing scarcity. I write this looking out to the heads of Otago Harbour.

The issue of clean rivers and enough water for the health of our rivers is one facing the Otago region. There have been a range of attempts to manage land and water use over the years but this management has become urgent.

Sometimes the urgency is manifest in unwelcome algae growing in lakes, that can harm our pets and our skin. And while there might be some short term solutions, we must always look to what has happened on the land surrounding the lake. Have there been subdivisions, with consequent soil erosion and disturbance, which can cause the flow of sediment into lakes? That sediment might carry unwelcome chemicals such as phosphorus.

In those new subdivisions is there an infrastructure for sewerage, for stormwater. Or do we rely on septic tanks? Do they leak into the lakes? For so long we have regarded it as our right for that solo bach or crib. We have valued the independence of being free of rules …but those rules are to protect the balance between humans and the eco-system.

When it comes to rivers..well. Some argue the water is wasted if we let it flow out to the sea. We want to take some out of the river for human water use, for agriculture…watering the soil. The question is how much do we take from the river? How much does the natural life in the river need?

And just like the lakes….what is happening along the banks of the river. If water is taken from the river, when it returns as run-off from those fields, what else is being added to the river such as sediment and natural waste from animals, and residue from the products added to the soil?

This is what has been concerning me since the beginning of 2020. I have walked around Lake Hayes. I have visited a range of sites in the Manuherekia catchment. I have listened to the opposing views of irrigators and ecologists. We have some very difficult decisions to make in the coming weeks on the Otago Regional Council.

And then there are rabbits, and wilding pines, and dirty air in our Ports, and our campaign to get people out of cars and on to public or active transport.

To Bike the talk, I have bought an electric bike. And on my second day I fell off while waiting at the lights!! But now to the workshop to fix the bike, so as I can get back on it.

My first ride!


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