Porirua harbour strategy working

cockles found in New ZealandGood news – a big increase in cockle numbers has shown up in the latest survey by Guardians of the Pauatahanui Inlet (GOPI). This signals that the intent of Porirua’s Harbour and Catchment Strategy (2012) is being realised, with a rise in cockle count a pretty good indication that the health of our beautiful harbour and estuary is being restored.

Numbers have risen from 277 million to 336 million since the last survey in 2010. That’s 21 per cent more cockles, at a time when some parts of the country are experiencing staggering losses in shellfish numbers. Back in 1995, when increasing sedimentation and contamination with heavy metals, and toxic levels of phosphorous and nitrogen, were only just being formally acknowledged as seriously affecting the inlet and its ecosystem, cockle numbers were a massive 87 per cent fewer – so we could be doing something right.

New Zealand flax flourishes at the shores of Pauatahanui Inlet - this is one of the country’s most distinctive native plants. It has sword-shaped leaves 1–3 metres long that grow in a fan shape. In spring, birds – particularly tūī – flock to feed on the nectar of its tube-like flowers, which bloom on stems up to 4.5 metres long.  New Zealand flax is not a true flax like linen flax (Linum usitatissimum), but related to the day lily. It belongs to the Hemerocallidaceae family and the Phormium genus. It grows naturally only in New Zealand and Norfolk Island – no other country has produced a plant quite like it. There are two confirmed species in New Zealand: Phormium tenax and Phormium cookianum.  The more common Phormium tenax, with its distinctive red flowers and upward curving seed pods, is also known as harakeke or swamp flax. Phormium tenax grows on lowland swamps throughout New Zealand. Thanks Te ara.govt.org.nz for this information. Image R M Moore

New Zealand flax flourishes at the shores of Pauatahanui Inlet – this is one of our most distinctive native plants. Its sword-shaped leaves grow in a fan shape and in spring, birds – particularly tūī – flock to feed on the nectar of its tube-like flowers, blooming on stems up to 4.5 metres long. New Zealand flax is related to the day lily. Growing naturally only in New Zealand and Norfolk Island – no other country has produced a plant quite like it. There are two confirmed species in New Zealand: Phormium tenax and Phormium cookianum. The more common Phormium tenax, with its distinctive red flowers and upward curving seed pods, is also known as harakeke or swamp flax. Thanks Teara.govt.org.nz for this information. Image R M Moore

GOPI representative, Professor John Wells, praises the efforts of Greater Wellington Regional Council, Porirua City Council, farmers and urban developers, for drastically reducing the amount of sediment entering the inlet, which is “undoubtedly having a positive effect.” High praise must also go to GOPI volunteers, for the amazing work they do in raising awareness around the importance of treating our inlet, harbour and wider catchment with respect. GOPI has been looking after the interests of Porirua’s prized toenga (treasure) for more than 20 years now – promoting activities like the cockle count, rubbish clearing, planting, and an annual photo competition – really making a difference.

GPOI undertake their cockle survey every three years, with NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) doing the analysis. View NIWA’s report and other details about Pauatahanui Inlet on GOPI’s website http://gopi.org.nz.

Here are some things  happening as part of the Poriruia Harbour Strategy and Action Plan – thanks Porirua City Council – for more details, see their website:

  • Sewer and stormwater upgrades. This is underway, with $20M earmarked over 10 years, to improve degraded sewer and stormwater networks.
  • Porirua Stream-mouth Enhancement Plan – being developed by a consultant with local community groups.
  • Catchment Sediment Reduction Plan. Research has been completed to identify the critical areas where sediment and erosion stabilisation is essential. This data has enabled development of a prioritised sediment-reduction plan for the whole catchment. Councils will develop programmes to implement the plan, including identifying opportunities for community participation.
  • Fish Survey. Ngāti Toa Rangatira and NIWA have completed an oral history, and review of the relevant literature and are proceeding with the third and fourth stages including a harbour-wide fish survey and a shellfish survey of the Onepoto Arm to complement the existing triannual Pauatahanui Cockle Count. The survey and cockle count will give us a baseline from which to gauge biological trends in the harbour as the Strategy is implemented, to guide aspects of the estuary restoration.


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Water cooperation in action – LAWA tells our water story

New in 2014, a unique and powerful way for communities to gather and share information about their waterways.

LAWA is the short name for Land, Air, Water, Aotearoa, a web tool designed to give the public access to data on the quality of New Zealand’s freshwater. It’s a collaboration between the highly regarded Cawthron Institute, Massey University, New Zealand’s Ministry for the Environment (MfE) and our regional and unitary councils (responsible for managing environmental resources at local level). Funding is aided through the Tindall Foundation.

Check out the LAWA website and if you’re in New Zealand, send in your observations, so we can keep updating – and learning from – our water story.

Here’s a screenshot showing just a sample of data for a stream in my city:

LAWA data on Porirua stream

Porirua Stream at Wall Park – this site is on the lower reaches of the stream

Note: Black disc is an easy way to quantify water clarity. How far away can a black target – the black disc – be seen through the water. The further away you can see the disc, the better the water clarity. Water clarity is essentially a description of light penetration and visual clarity: Light penetration is important as it controls the amount of light in the water needed for aquatic plants to grow. Visual clarity is an indication of how much suspended sediment – or soil – is in the water.

Northland river swimmers

What’s the water quality in this Northland river? You can use LAWA.org to find out about more than 1100 NZ waterways, and you can also send in your observations.

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World Water Day 2014 – the water and energy nexus

world water day 2014 logo

March 22 is coming around again and this year UN World Water Day is highlighting the critical link between water and energy use.

Following on from 2013’s year of events in celebration of the UN International Year of Water Cooperation, World Water Day 2014 builds on the theme of cooperation, of interlinking and interdependency, drawing attention to the water-energy nexus.

World Water Day 2014 water and energy nexus

World Water Day 2014 focuses on the near 1 billion people without access to safe drinking water or energy services. Image via Wikipedia

Emphasis is on addressing the inequities suffered by the billion people who live truly impoverished lives, with severely limited or no access to safe drinking water, poor sanitation, inadequate energy services and insufficient food. Ambitious goals involve promoting the development of policies and frameworks that forge links across ministries and sectors and identify best practices needed for water and energy efficiency, leading the way to energy security and sustainable water use.

The UN explains: The lack of energy and water is for many one of the explanations for poverty and deprivation, which demonstrates economic development is a double-edged sword. Reducing poverty, triggering economic growth and building up a more inclusive society are outstanding collective achievements that accompany new and bigger social and environmental challenges and the need to reconcile the different objectives in the continuous quest for a sustainable development path. Success in economic growth requires harnessing the potential of ecosystems to satisfy the demands of water and energy which are essential for life, as well as the function of the many production and consumption processes, where water and energy intervene as irreplaceable inputs. However, this can also create increasing water scarcity, higher exposure to droughts and extended impacts over natural ecosystems that become increasingly transformed.

World Water Day events have appeared on the global calendar since 1993, emerging from the seminal United Nations convention of Rio De Janeiro in 1992. It is yet to become popular in New Zealand, but look for events near you, they’ll usually be promoted through local councils. Or you could organise your own WWD 2014 celebration. There are loads of materials and a wealth of useful information on the UN website.

New Zealand shares with the rest of the world strong competition for water, for while near half its allocated water is used for irrigation, electricity generation accounts for an only slightly lesser amount (41 per cent). Happily, our reliance on hydro-energy has been static and even reduced in recent times, so the consequences of our heavy reliance on irrigation has not been felt to the extent it could have, had New Zealand not been in the midst of a long recession. As the nation emerges from recessionary caution, energy and water use will surely rise. In addition, as urban environments prosper, so the need for waste water and storm water disposal increases, with local water ways the losers from resulting degradation effects. At the same time, more water is needed to provide the energy used for water and waste water treatment. The key to using less energy in urban environments is thus – use less water!

We’re already dealing with the severe impacts of dairying on water quality, to the point that many of our rivers, lakes, streams and estuaries are no longer pleasant, or indeed safe, to swim or fish in. Any increasing demand for water to drive hydro-electricity (or for coal extraction and fracking), has the potential to put our waterways more at risk of degradation. It would be a tragedy for current and future generations, if as a consequence of growth and an improving economy, New Zealand’s waterways were allowed to further degrade. Millions of dollars of restoration work is being undertaken to bring back some health to waterways, not to mention the millions of hours of volunteer effort – clean rivers and streams mean a great deal to New Zealanders – and this could all be at risk.

The lessons of the past and the message of World Water Day 2014 suggest we should act more urgently on the recent Land and Water forum recommendations and the various reports on water and energy from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. See earlier posts for details. Sensible policies, technologies, and collaborative approaches that deliver effective and efficient water and energy use, will help secure New Zealand’s sustainable future.

2013 UN International Year of Water Cooperation brochure
Click on the image to download the brochure for 2013’s International Year of Water Cooperation
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Water, water everywhere…

2013 International Year of Water Cooperation

March 22 is UN World Water Day. An auspicious day for water on the global calendar, though New Zealand’s activities on this day fall largely under the radar.

Orlando Javier & Wilder José fetching water with a little pull cart.  Visiting the World Bank funded water project in a barrio (neighbourhood) in Managua, the capital of Nicaragua.It’s an especially big day this year. 2013 is the UN International Year of Water Cooperation, and World Water Day builds on this theme.

UNESCO has been coordinating the Year’s events, which kicked off with an official Launch Ceremony on 11 February. Megha Kumar won a trip to Paris to attend the launch, after her slogan

water, water everywhere, only if we share 

was chosen by UN judges to encapsulate the spirit of cooperation that is the objective. 12,000 slogans were received from more than 180 countries.

At the launch,  Tajikistan’s Foreign Affairs Minister Zarifi (it was Tajikistan that proposed 2013 be a year for inspiring better water cooperation) declared:

We need to strengthen water diplomacy to achieve the 2015 [deadline] of the Millennium Goals. Only close cooperation can secure the achievement of water goals for people, the environment and the economy. […] We must make this year, a year of strengthened mutual understanding, cooperation and dialogue.

The Netherlands are hosting official celebrations for World Water Day in The Hague, with a diversity of delegates, from inside and outside the ‘water box’. On 21 March, delegates gathered for multi-stakeholder ‘water conversations’, while a High-Level Forum is happening on the 22nd. For the public, there are various events that focus on water cooperation as a foundation for peace and sustainable development.

A key objective of the High Level Forum is:

  • to put water cooperation on the agendas of policy and decision makers, water professionals and the wider public

Lagoa Azul Pirenópolis, Brazil - Photo: Tania Brito for 2013 International Year of Water Cooperation and UN World Water DayIn case you’re thinking this is just the business of the various countries sharing the near 300 river basins in Africa, Asia, Europe, and North and South America – I would argue otherwise. New Zealand, for instance, despite being in the world’s freshwater top ten (having the most fresh water), faces increasing competition for its water resources, with nearly half the nation’s allocated water used for irrigation and 41 per cent used for electricity generation. The consequence of a heavy reliance on irrigation is not only water scarcity during dry spells. With intensive primary production like dairy farming ramped up over the past decade or so, water quality has been hugely impacted, with high concentrations of nutrients and toxins flowing into waterways as run-off. While legislation and a willingness to protect waterways are strongly in evidence, intensive use of land has its effect. As a consequence, there is millions of dollars worth of restoration work to do, with 15 million being spent over two years on five of New Zealand’s most degraded waterways, just for starters.

In reality, no one nation is immune from declining water quality, water scarcity issues, and natural disasters concerning water, and all nations (indeed, all communities), can benefit from fostering a spirit of cooperation. Porirua, the cities of the Hutt Valley, and Wellington, for example, derive their municipal water from the same sources. Water conservation messages (Be the difference campaign, and the recent Use a bit less – make a big difference) have driven down per person water use in recent years. However, Wellington chooses to put its residents under fewer restrictions than Porirua does. Another inconsistency is that Porirua and its near neighbour Kāpiti, actively promote the use of rainwater tanks for outdoor use and emergencies, while for some years, Wellington city has sent out mixed messages, depending on which agency is involved. This creates a perceivable gap between what Porirua people see as the wise use of water, and how Wellington views it. Cooperation in setting regulations, like allowing the use of hoses only on alternate days (this regulation is in force all year in Porirua), would see a more consistent conservation message getting through. 

Arguably, even given the long dry period this year, with greater cooperation and by sending more consistent water conservation messages, the Wellington region would not be facing such urgent water scarcity issues at the present time.

2013 UN International Year of Water Cooperation brochureWhat can we do to inspire better water cooperation, be it in our neighbourhoods or on a more global scale? 

  • Promote the UN International Year of Water Cooperation: you’re invited to use the logo, web banners and other campaign materials;
  • Raise awareness of the benefits of water cooperation: visit your Council’s website for local information and tips on saving water and protecting waterways. This link is a resource for the Wellington region. There are brochures, messages, case studies and success stories on the UN site;
  • Share your knowledge and your passion for water conservation with people around you;
  • Develop people’s capabilities and the water catchment’s capacity to improve, by organising a seminar, a workshop, a stream clean-up day…;
  • Promote partnerships, ‘water conversations’ and cooperation in your neighbourhood and beyond;
  • Send in your success stories, your pictures, artwork, videos and other creations, so the UN can share them with the world; more..

In the words of Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO:

This World Water Day is a call to action. We must join together today to secure clean water and food for every citizen of the world, now and in the future.

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Cleaner rivers – Morgan Foundation steps up

Communities all over New Zealand are working together to reverse the declining state of our waterways.

That’s the good news – people care about our beaches, rivers and streams. And many of them care so much that they’re getting stuck in and doing something that will make a difference. But, the state of decline hasn’t been reversed when it comes to our rivers – not yet. It appears that one of the problems is the fragmented approach to what’s being done.

So, some more good news is Gareth Morgan’s announcement in his blog this week, that the Morgan Foundation is getting behind a new campaign to coordinate data and community action to help us in our efforts to clean up our waterways. The Cleaner Rivers Campaign aims to help New Zealanders help their rivers, by providing the means to standardise community monitoring in a common database that is freely accessible to all. The Foundation intends to supply monitoring kits and information in the hope that this encourages community groups towards standardised testing of their waterways. There is also an idea to have annual awards that celebrate New Zealand’s fresh water. Data supplied by community groups (and official data too) will be used to take a stock-take of New Zealand fresh water, identifying rivers and streams that are improving over time and those that are getting worse.

It’s good to hear of yet another promising development for freshwater in New Zealand.

River fun - Wairarapa summer 2013 Photo: Robyn Moore

There are so many communities getting stuck into environmental projects and getting great results – here are a couple of examples near where I live:

Pauatahanui Inlet –  Human settlement for 600 years has had its effect on Porirua Harbour and its adjacent tidal inlet.  Denuding the surrounding hills for farming and subdivision in more recent times, has had a marked impact. Formed in 1991, the Guardians of the Pauatahanui Inlet (GOPI) act in the interests of the inlet. They organise regular community beach clean-ups, water quality monitoring, and they conduct the now world-famous (in Porirua) triennial cockle count, generally raising awareness about the need for a healthier harbour ecosystem. And it’s working – certain species, like the cockles (GOPI 2010), are doing remarkably well. This may be as much due to adaptive behaviour, as improved regulations and water quality. Time, and continued research, will tell. Monitoring shows the inlet to be in a largely healthier state now, than it was a decade ago, notwithstanding an ongoing concern with silt deposits from development and tidal movement. With Council impetus, the Guardians, local iwi and other interested groups have made a plan for addressing these kinds of concerns, releasing the Porirua Harbour and Catchment Plan in April 2012 (Porirua City Council 2012).


Waimapihi Stream Restoration – The restoration of the Waimapihi Stream (also known as the Secret Valley or Kōawa Ngaro) is another community effort that’s reaping rewards. This project also kicked off in the early nineties. Is it coincidence that community interest in these clean-up projects corresponds to the timing of New Zealand’s ground-breaking environmental legislation, the RMA (1991)? Back in 1992, the Waimapihi was known more as a gully than a stream. Its main purpose seemed to be as a dumping ground for garden and general rubbish, and an outfall for stormwater. With the help of Keep Pukerua Bay Beautiful, our City Council, the local school, and the wider community, decades worth of rubbish and weeds were cleared, and tracks and board-walks created. The school set up a nursery to grow native plants for the area, and these have thrived. Mature flaxes were transplanted from alongside the nearby State Highway, as it was undergoing widening.

bandedkokopu_5 Photo NIWA

The stream and the wider ecology has flourished under the care of the community. And the results came quickly, it seemed to us. Eels, banded and orange-back kokopu (whitebait), and koura (fresh water crayfish) returned in just a few years. A decade or so later, glowworms arrived. Twenty years on and the native trees and shrubs are spectacular, as is the birdlife.  The school is still invested in the stream restoration, and have won numerous environmental awards for their efforts. The Secret Valley has turned from a rubbish dump into a destination. If you’re ever in Pukerua Bay, you should take a wander through. I was swimming at the beach near the outflow of the stream this week. The water is crystal clear and was teaming with baby fish. Just the result we all want really.

Pukerua Bay - perhaps the best little bay in the world



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We can do better – NZ’s Land and Water Forum releases its final report

Vines in Eastern MarlboroughWater is without doubt, critical to our well-being and to our posterity as a nation. Most of us might also agree that all too often, we New Zealanders do a less than brilliant job of managing such a precious resource. Some suggest we are saved from witnessing the worst results of our poor attitudes to water, by the fact that it keeps falling in abundant quantities from the sky. But water isn’t always abundant is it? As our planet experiences more extremes of weather, the abundance some of us have been used to, has turned to scarcity. In other places, too much of a good thing isn’t always desirable. In 2011, for example, Nelson had a pre-Christmas deluge of water that scoured out landslips across a wide area, destroying homes, businesses, and hurting livelihoods.

Flooding and landslips Tasman District, December 2011

The Land and Water Forum came about in 2009, because a group of people believed we could do better, a lot better, at managing water. For more than three years, the Forum, supported first by the National government’s Nick Smith, then Ministers Amy Adams and David Carter, built an unprecedented accord among its stakeholders, in support of a new fresh water management framework for New Zealand – a framework that is more transparent, efficient and fair, and will help resolve historic issues and provide certainty for the future (L&W Forum Nov 2012).

Third Report of the Land and Water Forum Nov 2012The third and concluding report of the Land and Water Forum has been released this week (15 Nov 2012). The first report set out a blueprint for land and water management reform. The second and third reports deal with ways to implement that reform. The third report is concerned with managing within limits. This is dependent on setting objectives, and determining the limits of a catchment – the subject of the second report. In that second report, the forum recommended further work to finalise a national objectives framework, and offered to carry it out. However, the government decided to seek advice on this issue themselves, and they have yet to finalise a framework. That the ministers sought to exclude the forum from this work is disappointing, as a sensible and widely agreed national framework of objectives is crucial to the improvement of freshwater governance in New Zealand. If iwi, farmers, other industry, and the public do not buy in to the framework’s objectives, then there are potential negative implications for the forum’s recommendations.

Kaiate Scenic Reserve and Rerekawau Falls near Tauranga

Kaiate scenic reserve and Rerekawau falls. This 7 hectare reserve was established in 1955, thanks to the Lett family giving up their grazing lease. Walking tracks were created between 1969 and 1972, with forest re-vegetation commenced in 1972.

The report’s authors note that the process of reaching consensus is never easy, and that there is one split recommendation, where alternative courses of action are offered, as consensus was not entirely reached in the collaborative planning processes. The authors further urge that the government respond to the three reports as a whole package. Implementing them in part, say the authors, risks the loss of consensus and the constituency for change which it has generated.

I took part in this collaborative process that began in 2009. A welcome outcome has been the release in 2011, after years of debate, of a National Policy Statement on Fresh Water. It’s a fairly lightweight NPS, but useful all the same. On release of the NPS, the government announced a welcome $15 million injection of funds over two years for cleaning up our worst waterways. This announcement was somewhat diminished by news at the same time, that their Irrigation Acceleration Fund would attract far greater funding ($35 million over five years, and much more in the longer term) – see article Have enough farmers cleaned up their act?

Kaiate reserve image of leaf in rushing waterA key finding of the Forum is that we should now view as false, the long-held perception that trading-off or balancing values against each other is an almost inescapable part of freshwater management. Rather, the Forum propose various ways to pursue environmental, economic and social benefits at once, including through accessing new water through efficiency gains and new infrastructure, adding value to our products and services, science and innovation, and leveraging off New Zealand’s solid environmental performance in export markets. The change proposed encourages people, enterprises and agencies to participate actively and collaboratively to seek and implement local solutions that are win-win for all parties.

The groups that came together to contribute to this Forum were people from all walks of life, and from near every part of the country – with public engagements held in 17 centres. A website has kept contributors updated on progress, along with regular emails, as the forum has achieved each milestone. This has been a satisfying process and one I hope government will have the wisdom to pursue in other areas. Community very often lies at the heart of finding satisfying solutions to unwieldy problems.

Kids at the creek - Manawaru School children play in a much cleaner stream thanks to their Enviroschool project

Manawaru School pupils enjoy the now much cleaner waters of Te Horo stream thanks to their Enviroschools community clean-up project.
Photo / Christine Cornege
Source / NZ Herald (read their story)


Here’s all the work of the Land and Water Forum to date, and some related documents. While acknowledging it has concluded its government mandate, the Forum propose meeting in July 2013 to debate the government’s response to their recommendations. Facts and figures above are from the report: Land and Water Forum, 2012. Third Report of the Land and Water Forum: Managing Water Quality and Allocating Water.  I acknowledge the Land and Water Forum website for the material that follows.

Third Report of the Land and Water Forum (November 2012):

Third Report of the Land and Water Forum (PDF 4 MB)

Press release (PDF 72 KB)

Ministers’ press release – on the Beehive website

Second Report of the Land and Water Forum (May 2012):

Second Report of the Land and Water Forum (PDF 1.75 MB)

Press release (PDF 202 KB)

Phase 2 (September 2011-November 2012):

Report to Ministers following regional engagement meetings (April 2011):

Report to Minister for the Environment and the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry – 5 April 2011 (PDF)


Land and Water Forum: Summary of Points raised at Regional Engagements (PDF)

Land and Water Forum: Recommendations – Implementation (PDF)

Land and Water Forum: Note on Collaboration (PDF)

‘A Fresh Start for Freshwater’ Report (September 2010):

A Fresh Start for Freshwater (PDF)

Media Release (PDF)

Summary Report (Foreword, Executive Summary and Recommendations) (PDF)

Phase 1 (2009-2010):

Bullet points from the first six roundtables – Colin James (PDF)

Cabinet Papers:

The New Start for Fresh Water

Implementing the New Start for Fresh Water

Terms of Reference:

Land and Water Forum Project – A Fresh Look at Fresh Water

Letter from the Ministers to LWF Chairman Alastair Bisley (PDF)

Forum Chair’s speeches (and other general documents):


Alastair Bisley’s Speech at the Launch of the Final Report – 22 September 2010 (PDF)

Alastair Bisley’s Speech at the EDS Conference, June 2010 (PDF)

Alastair Bisley’s Speech to the Bluegreens, October 2009 (PDF)

Updates from the Chair:

Update from the Chair – 21 December 2011 (PDF)

Press release:

Land and Water Forum pleased at extended role – 15 September 2011 (PDF)

Update – March 2013 has seen the release of the government’s freshwater reform proposals, with feedback due by 8 April 2013:

Overview of 2013 reforms

Actions relate to three key areas:

  1. Planning as a community – introducing a collaborative planning option as an alternative to the current system under the Resource Management Act 1991.
  2. National Objectives Framework that requires national minimum environmental states in rivers and lakes for ecosystem health and human contact.
  3. Managing within water quality and quantity limits – requiring councils to better account for how all water in a region is used, including how much is taken and what is discharged into it.

You can comment on the proposals in Freshwater reform 2013 and beyond by email: watercomments@mfe.govt.nz

or write to:

Water Comments
Water Reform Directorate
PO Box 10362
Wellington 6143

Comments must be received by 5.00pm Monday 8 April 2013.

The government’s freshwater reform proposals are part of a wider reform programme encompassing the Resource Management and Local Government Acts. National priorities are changing, as part of the ‘streamlining’ of New Zealand’s environmental legislation, with resultant changes to planning and consenting regimes. Take a look at what’s proposed: Resource management reform phase two.

Click here to listen to a discussion (podcast – 11 March 2013) on the proposed changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA 1991). Radio NZ National’s Kathryn Ryan interviews Gary Taylor, Chairman, Environmental Defence Society; Kerry Knight, Director of Equinox Capital; and former property lawyer and Environment Minister Amy Adams.

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Life on a Seamount

Gaper - perfect title for this cartoon-like Seamount creature Image credit - National Geographic Magazine

Gaper – perfect title for this cartoon-like Seamount creature
Image credit – National Geographic Magazine

Seamounts are underwater volcanoes that haven’t broken the surface of the ocean. When they do, they are islands.

In July, an eruption in the Kermadec Seamount range, northeast of New Zealand, threw thousands upon thousands of pumice pieces up to the sea-surface.

In early August a huge mass of ‘brilliant white’ was spotted from the air. An incredible sight, this ‘pumice raft‘ covered near 26,000 square kilometres.

Photo-gallery: Here is a link to an absolutely stunning photo-gallery of the life that exists on our Seamounts. The National Geographic website is a wonderful source of images and information on people and nature. Check out the seamount pages: Seamounts – Life on a Mount – Pictures, More From National Geographic Magazine.

Kermadec Arc via wikipedia

The Kermadec Island chain extends for 240 kilometres, with the east-lying Kermadec Trench reaching 10,000 metres depth. To the west is the Havre Trough, 3,000 metres below sea-level. The Seamount chain is seen extending to the bottom-right of the image.

Marine Conservation: The Kermadec Islands Marine Reserve was declared in 1990 and is administered by New Zealand’s Department of Conservation.

The idea of a no-take Marine Reserve is to allow an area of coastal sea to return to as close to its natural state as possible, by protecting species and habitats (see Enderby, 2006).

Collectively, New Zealand’s 34 Marine Reserves protect 7 per cent of its territorial sea, as far south as the Sub-antarctic Auckland Islands, with the isolated island area of the Kermadecs, the most northern.

Ten reserves are now vested in Fiordland (eight were added in 2005), but almost 99 per cent of marine reserve area is located around the sub-tropical island areas of Auckland and the Kermadecs. New Zealand’s first no-take Marine Reserve was established in 1975 at Auckland’s Cape Rodney – Okakari Point (or Goat Island), one of the world’s first. Check out DOC’s website for more on marine conservation and to view a map of marine conservation areas.

Kermadec ecology: The Kermadec Islands lie 1000 kilometres from New Zealand, inside our Exclusive Economic Zone, and are home to a mix of tropical and temperate marine creatures. The spotted black grouper (a hefty sea bass), while scarce everywhere else, thrives in this nutrient-rich environment. Bottle-nose dolphins are common, and several species of marine turtle come ashore to lay eggs at Raoul, the largest of the islands.

With goats, rats and cats eradicated from the islands, birdlife is now prolific, especially on Macauley Island, which supports the only breeding population of black-capped petrels. In 2008, two years after the islands achieved predator-free status, the Kermadec Red-crowned Parakeet returned to breed in its island home, for the first time in 172 years. Fairy terns, grey ternlets and shearwater populations thrive in their island isolation.

Tectonic setting of New Zealand with Australian and Pacific plates shown

New Zealand lies at the edge of both the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates. To New Zealand’s northeast, and under the North Island, the Pacific Plate is moving towards, and being subducted under the Australian Plate. Credit: Otago University Geology Department, NZ

Geology: Earthquakes are pretty much a daily event in the Kermadecs , as the Pacific and Australian plates slide and buckle against each other. Volcanic eruptions are not quite so common. A smallish eruption was recorded in 2004. Rafts of pumice floated just offshore, and washed up on the beaches for weeks. Note that visits to the islands are restricted by the Department of Conservation.

Seamounts are closely associated with the formation of hydrothermal vents. Studies along the Kermadec Arc have revealed many of these hotwater springs in the ocean floor.

hydrothermal vent image via blog.nus.edu.sg

Hydrothermal vent

A hydrothermal plume forms when warm fluids emerge from vents on the seafloor and mix with the surrounding cold seawater. Hydrothermal vents and plumes are of interest to the mining industry, as they are rich in metals like barium, lead, zinc, copper, and the (agriculturally significant) mineral phosphorous.

Chimney structures vary. Black smokers emit dark particles with high levels of sulphur-bearing minerals (sulfides). Dissolved minerals solidify due to the temperature changes between vent fluids and the surrounding seawater, with the resulting tiny metal-rich particles forming ‘smoke’. Vent fluids can reach 350°C, while the surrounding seawater is at 2°C. White smokers emit lighter-coloured minerals like barium, calcium and silicon and tend to have lower temperature plumes.

Coral Image credit Tom Hitchon

Coral in the Kermadecs – Image Tom Hitchon: thekermadecs.org/corals-bryozoans

Research: Since 1977, researchers have been studying these deep-sea vents and their unusual chemistry, with the Kermedec region providing outstanding evidence of key stages in the Earth’s geological evolution. New populations of organisms are being discovered all the time, many of them uniquely adapted to the depth, geochemistry and flow of the venting fluids. We are still uncovering the secrets of these mineral-rich ecological powerhouses.

Thanks to GNS Science NZ and The Kermadecs.org for information on hydrothermal vents.

Radio NZ National interview on podcast (19 Nov 2012) with Auckland University’s Mark Costello: Mark is co-leader of a comprehensive marine species stocktake to seek out and catalogue the diverse marine life of the world’s oceans. You can find details at http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon or go direct to selected images gallery: global marine species diversity. The World Register of Marine Species (WoRMS) has a fascinating website, with an extensive photogallery. 

Smithsonian Seamount Exhibit: From the Smithsonian Institute comes this video, with astonishing footage of the unique organisms found around hydrothermal vents and a clear explanation of the related process of chemosynthesis that is now strongly believed to be associated with the origins of life on earth.

Havre Seamount Kermadec Seamount Range - image via wired.com

The Havre eruption in July 2012 dispersed clusters of floating pumice across 26,000 square kilometres. The blue area is coloured by volcanic ash. Image credit – NASA satellite picture posted on Wired.com by Erik Klemetti, assistant professor of Geosciences at Denison University.

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Treasure on our doorstep – Porirua Harbour and Inlet

Pauatahanui Inlet, Porirua, New Zealand Photo: Robyn MoorePauatahanui Inlet is the lower North Island’s largest estuary and it needs protecting. The city has a plan now. The region has a plan.

We have a commitment to put the harbour right – it could take 10 years, it may take 20 or 30. It’s about time. Porirua Harbour is our city’s treasure – our heart – with 80,000 people living around it.

Living Waters is a must-see series of 12 short films about Porirua Harbour. Film-maker, Cheryl Cameron, lives just metres from the Pauatahanui Inlet, while cameraman, Matty Warmington, spent his childhood ‘down at the boatsheds, fishing and playing in the harbour’.

These films celebrate our precious harbour, its living waters, the people and their stories. The cinematography is stunning. December’s episode shows this summer’s dolphin visitors clowning around under a reddening sky – beautiful.

Living Waters – Celebrating Porirua Harbour “Protect the Treasure”

Fast facts:

The Inlet is the only extensive area of salt-marsh and sea grass in the Wellington region (DOC,  2012). It’s an important nursery for snapper, rig (the shark in our fish and chips), gurnard and flounder, with the wetland food-web returning critical nutrients to the water when the young fish need it. Seahorses make the Inlet home too – in some years they seem largely absent, while in others they are sizable and abundant. Research is ongoing, both locally (including the community cockle count) and by the Ministry of Fisheries and the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA).


Pauatahanui Wildlife Management Reserve – information from DOC on this and three other ecologically important areas it administers: Duck Creek Scenic Reserve, Pauatahanui Inlet Wildlife Refuge, Horokiwi Wildlife Reserve.

Guardians of Pauatahanui Inlet – volunteer community group, started in 1991 and largely funded by member subscriptions, but also assisted by local businesses. Activities include cleaning up the inlet and a popular annual photo competition (yes – my photo below won a few years back).

Pauatahanui Inlet, Porirua, New Zealand Photo: Robyn Moore

Pauatahanui Inlet - Robyn Moore

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Have enough farmers cleaned up their act?

I have great respect for Jon Morgan who writes for the Dompost.
His article Farmers really have cleaned up their act (Dompost 16/11/2011) begs some questioning though.

Yes, I imagine most kiwis would agree with Jon – Most of us would agree that dairy farmers are not intentional polluters, and that farmers are genuinely horrified when they find that they or an employee have inadvertently caused pollution.

Jon tells us that these days, pollution happens on rare occasions through poor management, breakages or from a surprise weather event.

Fair enough with respect to weather and other uncertainties. But breakages are surely preventable? Do we accept that poor management is a reasonable excuse for degrading our waterways?

The RMA 1991 and other environmental legislation exist to prevent poor environmental management. Jon observes that: in the past five years, Horizons Regional Council in Manawatu-Whanganui has prosecuted 16 farmers out of 860. Ramping up investment in intensive farming puts a greater burden on Regional Councils. Are we expecting Councils with stretched resources to identify and prosecute every breach? Who pays?

Our rivers are dirty. And yes, some of that is because of urban sewage. But, as Jon suggests, most of it comes from farms. The Clean Streams Accord was signed in 2003, and the state of our rivers has further declined, rather than improved – so it might be fair to say that some farmers have been slow to act.

Happy stock on Bonaveree.  We’re talking the best part of a decade since the Accord. While I’m not disagreeing with Jon that farmers are indeed cleaning up their act – with great examples like the Lake Taupo restoration project and others described in earlier posts (and see NZ Landcare Trust) – the question is, are farmers doing enough? And are Regional Councils doing enough about enforcement? The Auditor General says no.

This comment comes from a Regional Councillor regarding one of a number of pollution incidents in the Wellington region. We can and should do better.

We received another report today of about a hundred cattle breaking down the banks and fouling the Huangarua River near Martinborough. Local residents have had enough and are angry that repeated appeals made to the GW Environment Protection Unit over much of this year to curb the local farmer involved have had no effect. This farmer repeatedly confines the cattle into the river with hot-wires traversing it so cattle are trapped on the banks and in the water. We are disappointed that although GW has clear Farmer Guidelines, a Fresh Water Plan and responsibilities under the RMA, it is failing to provide the necessary resources to check farmer compliance and fine them for repeated transgressions. Fecal and urine pollution occurring on the Huangarua  River also pollutes the nearby Ruamahanga River into which it feeds: both rivers are used for swimming, fishing and other recreation. Such pollution causes both unwanted algal and bacterial overgrowth and is a health hazard for the region.

Back to Jon, who says that one cause of river pollution is cows crossing or standing around in streams and rivers, with cows more likely to defecate in water than out of it, according to a 2004 study. 85 per cent of dairy cattle are now excluded from waterways, according to Jon’s sources and this is improving every year. And 99 per cent of farms have apparently bridged streams.

Cows grazing wetland - Porirua catchmentWhile I applaud the improvement in dairy cattle exclusion zones, I wonder about that other figure – that 99 per cent. Taking a look around the countryside near where I live, most wetlands and streams are not fenced off from stock. Effluent from cows and sheep grazing in or near waterways, and silt from their wading through swampy areas, this fouls our waterways.

All this is surely preventable. According to Jon’s article, only 1 per cent of farms are failing to step up. Only 1 per cent of farms are failing to clean up their act? So why are we still seeing unfenced streams and wetlands and hearing of incidents like the one near Martinborough?

WLake Taupo - cleaning up its acte can do better, and we must do better – before unleashing more intensive irrigation on our pastureland, which will likely drive more effluent into our lakes, rivers and streams. Is public funding of intensive irrigation to be promoted before farmers have fully cleaned up their act? The public should think carefully before funding more intensive irrigation.

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National – declaring war on rivers?

Green’s co-leader Russel Norman said this morning on Radio NZ National that the current government’s promise to fund irrigation infrastructure out of asset sales is akin to it making a declaration of war on our rivers. Is that a fair description?

War is a strong word. But there is a battle going on – a battle over more intensive irrigation, and I suspect that includes big dams. The announcement of the irrigation fund seems to leave little doubt as to which side the National government is lining up on.

Yet, this seems a contradiction in kind. Environment Minister, Nick Smith has said he supports the work and recommendations of the Land and Water Forum – and he agrees with the recent Auditor General’s report on the urgent need to improve water quality – by getting tough on polluters.

With intensive agriculture promoted through a fund for large-scale irrigation projects, there is no doubt that water quality will suffer – as the increased effluent and other nutrients have to go somewhere. Extensive R&D is underway to create new ways of managing effluent and other contaminants, so they don’t enter the water system. But is it good governance to make public-spending decisions based on the (at this stage unlikely) assumption that the research will catch up before the damage is irreversible?

The 2009 Resource Management Amendment Act (RMAA) and current moves to further ‘simplify’ it and fast-track processes, are all part of a ‘think bigger’ picture. There is a race to get on with things, to mine resources, to build bigger and more roads, and to move ahead with intensifying productive industries like dairy farming.

And why not? We need to build productivity, to pay down debt like most of the rest of the world. But are we doing enough thinking about the combined effects of this fast-tracking philosophy? Have we considered what the collective result of some of these proposed ‘quick wins’ will be? What are the costs – to our lifestyle, to our choices here in Aotearoa NZ?

According to Massey ecologist Mike Joy, we are already living through the most rapid rates of ecosystem change since colonisation. Here are some stats, before the government’s latest RMA streamlining amendment and its asset-sale-funded irrigation programme.

  • 68% of identified ecosystems are now classed as threatened
  • 90% of wetlands are gone
  • More than 70% of indigenous forest-cover gone
  • Twice as many introduced as native plants, and one-third introduced freshwater and bird species
  • Almost all river-quality monitoring sites show a worsening trend. 43% of them regularly fail to meet bathing standards, in many instances because faecal contamination levels are too high
  • Almost half our lakes are polluted by excess nutrients, and/or over-run by invasive fish. Sediment chokes most of our harbours and estuaries
  • By 2050, on current trends, we will have extinguished native fish in New Zealand. Five threatened species are commercially harvested – none have effective legal protection
  • More than 18,000 and up to 30,000 people contract waterborne diseases every year, from microbial contamination. Of the 70 “best” Waikato waterways, e-coli in more than 50 of them exceeds contact recreation levels (Forest and Bird AGM 2011 and see retired environment Judge D. F. Sheppard’s Reaching sustainable management of fresh water).

Does damming more rivers and polluting more waterways with effluent and chemicals, whether resulting from farm intensification or from some other intensive production process, fit with the stewardship (kaitiakitanga) role New Zealanders agreed to support in 1840, and ratified with our greater commitment to environmental objectives under the RMA (1991) and its amendments?

Personally, I think we need to look ahead – to the future of our children and grandchildren. The actions of this government and its partners seem altogether geared towards short-term gain. Consider the decision to slide out ETS (emissions trading) costs for SOE’s (state-owned enterprises) and agriculture for another two years.

Nick Smith has said today that the decision to put off paying to pollute by another couple of years, is in the interests of kiwi families. But, is it better to have rivers and streams that we can only look at, rather than splash about in? Is it better to lose more and more habitat for endangered species?

Are we better off by supporting a Southland lignite coal mine with a $100,000 million investment in selling dirty coal (lignite) and making dirty-diesel (see the post on lignite mining in Southland), when the Parliamentary Commisioner clearly states we are not? Are we better off with one or two dams on the Hurunui? – when dryland farming has proven to be a productive and sustainable method of farming the land in that area.

While record production levels are being achieved in the dairy industry, it is a battle to reverse the decline of our waterways – some shamefully polluted – like the Manawatu, the Kaipara and Waikato rivers.

Water headlines July 2011

Dairy NZ tell us that Waikato farmers have had their best season ever, generating nearly $3.5 billion in revenue. Northland farms produced 10% more milk than last year, while Waikato milk production increased by 6.5%, according to Dairy NZ’s John Luxton. With a few per cent more profit in their pockets, it should be a good time for those Northland farmers, along the Kaipara and Wairau Rivers especially, to think about ways to farm with less run-off, to keep stock away from vulnerable waterways and wetlands – and to set a time-frame with Council for this to happen.

Good work is being done (see earlier posts for examples). The Lake Taupo restoration project is exciting, as it foreshadows what could be achieved across NZ through active community engagement and partnership, rural and urban. But, as indicated by the Auditor General (see earlier post), our regional Councils need to get tough on polluters. And the government must too. We must enforce the RMA in the way it is intended (Sheppard, 2010). And equally, if adverse effects are more than minor, and enforcement is necessary, then Councils should be prepared to help farmers get the information and resources they need to change the way they farm. Landcare NZ has a critical role to play in this. More investment into funding research and development, education and engagement, and developing new and better farming practices will ensure our land and water resources are treasured and our Pure NZ image and lifestyle is preserved.

Whangarei resident, Millan Ruka recently gained public attention for his crusade to document Kaipara’s pollution problem as he tries – so far unsuccessfully – to urge Northland Regional Council into action over rivers contaminated by farming. Funding future think-big irrigation infrastructure like the twin dam project proposed for the Hurunui from sales of our public assets, means the battle for the rivers may well be won – but not by most New Zealanders. Those with deeper pockets than us may make quick wins – but at such a cost to our natural assets, to our ecosystems, to the lifestyles we value.

New Zealanders already support the notion of kaitiakitanga or stewardship. We acknowledge the need to protect our treasures. Water is arguably the most precious of these. We surely all want to better protect our rivers, lakes and steams – and to have the choice to swim and play in our waterways. Increased commitment to mining lignite, to intensive irrigation and the accompanying ‘big’ infrastructure like dams, comes at a price that I suspect most New Zealanders would not willingly pay – increasing degradation of coastal and fresh water resources and diminishing lifestyle choices for generations to come – is it worth it?

Posted in Environment, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Resource Management Act, Uncategorized, water, water management | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Freshwater in NZ – Auditor General unimpressed by ‘forgiving’ Regional Councils

Regional Councils are too forgiving – and our waterways are the worse for it. Kevin Parris from the OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate is undertaking a report on water quality in OECD nations. Interviewed on Radio NZ National this morning, he was in general agreement with the findings of Auditor General about the deteriorating state of water in New Zealand.

Forty per cent of dairy farmers do not comply with our environmental regulations, according to the OECD data. New Zealand has reasonable water quality in general, but we are at risk of serious decline if we continue to ‘forgive’ polluting dairy farmers and others, including some Councils, who breach environmental limits.

Media release from Nick Smith:


“The Government concurs with the Auditor-General’s conclusion that while overall water quality in New Zealand rates well internationally, the deterioration in some areas is of concern and needs addressing.

That’s why we have put in place a National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, established the 62-strong Land and Water Forum, doubled fines for farmers who don’t comply with consents, introduced regulations for metering water takes and provided a fivefold increase in funding to clean up our lakes and rivers.

The review by the Office of the Auditor-General into four regional councils – Waikato Regional Council, Taranaki Regional Council, Horizons Regional Council, and Environment Southland – reinforces the critical role regional councils play in freshwater management.

It backs up the requirement in the Freshwater NPS for robust water quality limits that reflect the natural variation throughout different regions.

It recommends that regional councils be given guidance material to help them implement the NPS, work which the Environment Ministry is advancing.

It underlines the need for good monitoring and reporting of our freshwater resources. The Government’s proposed Environmental Reporting Act will strengthen the credibility of New Zealand’s clean, green brand by requiring independent, regular and nationally consistent reporting on the state of our environment, including our waterways.

This is a good report that provides important guidance on the challenge New Zealand faces over freshwater management. The Government will progress its recommendations and we urge regional councils to pick up on the improvements in this report.” END of National’s Media Release

Overgrazing - Then!

The particular improvement we could start with is for Regional Councils to enforce regulations on water quality, according to the Auditor General. However, OECD researcher Kevin Parris points out that education and communication are critical adjuncts to regulation. If we don’t help dairy farmers, in particular, to learn new ways of working – nutrient budgeting for example – then regulation will be less than effective.

A brilliant example of what can be achieved by engaging and educating communities, and farmers in particular, is the Lake Taupo Restoration Project. This world-leading project receives high praise from Kevin Parris. Its aim is to restore high water quality in Lake Taupo. Algal blooms have been a longstanding problem, with growth stimulated by nitrogen leaching into the lake and from direct discharges. This project sets a goal of reducing nitrogen input into the lake by an ambitious 20 per cent by 2020 – and they are already on-track. Waikato Regional Council’s ‘Variation 5’ policy has introduced a requirement for consents to farm – just one strand of the work underway to reach the target. Variation 5 helps protect water quality in Lake Taupo by capping (or benchmarking) nutrient levels – reducing the amount of the nutrient nitrogen getting into the lake.

Starborough Flaxbourne Soil Conservation Project

And Now! Happy stock in Eastern Marlborough

If we want clean rivers and streams, we need more projects like Lake Taupo, like Starborough Flaxbourne (see earlier post). We need to put back the investment in Landcare – they are experts at working with communities to change land and water management practices for the better. Take a look at the post on Starborough Flaxbourne, and check out the story of the Sherry River Catchment – an inspiring example of communities working together to change the fate of the Motueka River. To date, the results are astonishing – step by step Landcare’s Barbara Stuart and the team are making a difference – showing we can protect the environment AND make money too.

http://www.landcare.org.nz/projects-groups/landcare-groups/sherry-river-group/ (The Sherry Catchment Group’s story)

Get the book – PDF published online by the NZ Landcare Trust for the Sherry River Catchment Group, October 2010: http://www.landcare.org.nz/user-content/3354-the-sherry-river-story.pdf 

http://www.infonews.co.nz/news.cfm?id=66623 (Lake Taupo Protection makes solid progress)

http://www.landcare.org.nz/news-features/celebration-goldenbay/ (Another successful Landcare community project. Thanks to the efforts of the local community and investment from dairy farmers, in October 2007 shellfish harvest days were lifted to 79% – a huge increase on the unsupportable 28% back in 2002 when the project began. The results reflect significantly improved water quality and economic returns.)

Here’s the full report from the Office of the Auditor General (OAG), Managing freshwater quality: Challenges for Regional Councils (PDF 2.3MB, 92 pages): http://www.oag.govt.nz/2011/freshwater/niwa-report/docs/managing-freshwater-quality.pdf

And here’s the Executive Summary (web page): http://www.oag.govt.nz/2011/freshwater/niwa-report/executive-summary

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Green growth in NZ – a case of once over lightly?

The Resource Management Amendment Act (RMAA 2009) seemed like a good idea at the time – and so did the Green Growth Advisory Group.

The National government’s 2009 amendment to the Resource Management Act 1991 is intended to streamline and simplify. There are a raft of projects affected by this legislation. These projects dismiss some of  the usual checks and balances regarding environmental and other ‘costs’ in favour of ‘streamlining.’

So, why’s that a problem?

In many cases it probably isn’t. If projects get off the ground quickly, we save on litigation and other time-consuming processes, and that means delivering growth at less cost – and isn’t that the point?

Well, perhaps not entirely. Sir Paul Callaghan recently delivered a challenge to New Zealanders – to make New Zealand a place where talent wants to live. He was referring to the small bunch of talented people who are part of an equally small number of top earning businesses quietly achieving impressive productivity outcomes across the country.

CG depiction of Gollum created by Weta Digital...

These are businesses delivering huge returns, even when compared to our two notable earner industries, dairy and tourism – and with barely a negative imprint on the environment. They include companies like Fisher and Pykel Healthcare and Weta Digital.

Our wellbeing and our prosperity, our ability to pay our debts, are dependent on growing our productivity – and that doesn’t necessarily mean working harder – or longer, or doing away with lower-productivity businesses that support the things we do and care about – like rest-home carers, cafe workers, and researchers – like me.

Cliche it may be – but building prosperity is about working smarter and developing more businesses based around people and innovation – businesses that deliver higher earnings per worker. Callaghan’s recent example is that a McDonald’s worker produces $75.00 of value to the company, while a Samsung employee creates $1.0 million. In New Zealand, the likes of Fonterra produce a good return, around $130.00 per worker, while tourism earnings sit at around $90. Mining low-energy coal is likely to produce even less per worker, and at what cost to the environment?

The Green Growth Advisory group was launched with some fanfare in January this year. It is tasked with promoting the ‘greening-up’ of small and medium sized businesses, growing clean technology and innovation, and moving towards a low-carbon economy. But big business has been left out of its terms of reference – an omission the taxpayer will pay for in spades, according to Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Jan Wright.

My question is this: Why are we so actively pursuing environmentally-costly programmes to mine our resources (oil-drilling might be one example, but I am uneducated about the impacts, so would just ask; have the environmental consequences been truly considered?). We have just launched the first of three stages of lignite mining in Southland (see my previous post). My particular gripe – why spend 100 million on feasibility studies when the Parliamentary Commissioner has already condemned this project? Economics seems to rule supreme – and that should worry us.

Getting the carbon tax ball rolling - Cartoon by John Ditchburn of inkcinct.com.au/

Australian PM Julia Gillard – ‘Getting the carbon tax ball rolling’ – cartoon by http://www.inkcinct.com.au

The Green Growth Advisory Group’s report, due in December, is destined to disappoint many who supported its intent – the main criticism being the exemption of the big emitters from accounting for the overall costs of doing business – and so leaving out the costs of polluting when making crucial investment decisions – like those of SOE Solid Energy.

Matiu Somes watercave Wellington Harbour - Image Robyn Moore

Matiu Somes watercave Wellington – Photo by Robyn Moore

We need to make better decisions that really do look out for the long term wellbeing and prosperity of all New Zealanders. That means that as we do business, we also must act on restoring and enhancing the intrinsic water, air and landscape qualities that make New Zealand the place we love to live – Then we’ll have the New Zealand we deserve. The place where talent wants to live.

(See the recent Sir Paul Callaghan address http://www.r2.co.nz/20110519/).

Professor Callaghan was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of London in 2001. He was awarded the Ampere Prize in 2004 and the Rutherford Medal in 2005. In 2006, he was appointed a Principal Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit and in  2007 he was recognised by a KEA/NZTE World Class New Zealander Award and received the Sir Peter Blake Medal. Knighted in 2009, the following year he was awarded the Gunther Laukien Prize for Magnetic Resonance, and shared the New Zealand Prime Minister’s Science Prize in 2010. In 2011, he was named Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year and was made Honorary Fellow of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. Thanks to the Royal Society of New Zealand and Victorius (Autumn 2012) for this bio. 

Update March 2012Remembering Sir Paul

Mourning the passing of world-leading physicist, innovator, humanitarian, uber-educator, Professor Sir Paul Callaghan (1947-2012). Ardent advocate for a more resilient and prosperous New Zealand, Sir Paul’s contributions are immeasurable.

Professor Sir Paul Terence Callaghan, scientist; b Whanganui, 19 August 1947; m Susan Audrey Roberts (dis), m Miang Lim; 1s 1d; d Wellington, March 24, aged 64.

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Posted in Environment, Environmental issues, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Resource Management, RMA 1991, Uncategorized, water | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Mining lignite in Aotearoa NZ – a price too high?

Interested in what’s on the horizon in respect of our natural resources – including freshwater? Two reports released in August are worth your attention. Lignite and Climate Change: The High Cost of Low Grade Coal is a report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment while the other is the government’s NZ Energy Strategy 2011-2021, released with the welcome addendum, The NZ Energy Efficiency and Conservation Strategy.

We’re all interested in protecting the long term health of our freshwater resources. Does ramping-up the mining of lignite feature as a constraint to that mission? A Queensland case study (Evans, Roe and Joy, 2003) suggests we need to more carefully factor water – alongside carbon emissions – into any proposal to mine this ‘dirty’ coal.

Lignite layers

Access to a reliable source of water is an essential requirement for coal mines, with significant quantities needed for dust management, drilling, human consumption, among countless other uses. Statistics from 2003 (from corporate reporting) suggest that 200 litres of fresh water is consumed on average for every tonne of coal produced, with some variation due to operating practice and circumstances (Evans et al.).

Coal environments - Source http://geology.com/articles/coal-microscope/coal-environments.jpg

During the mining process fresh water transforms to dirty water and it is managed through the mines’ systems, including recycling as much water as possible back into the coal preparation plant in order to reduce fresh water take (Evans et al.). However, this has resulted in adverse effects associated with the effects of saline (salty) water on equipment performance, and in some cases a deteriorating body of water as the cycle of recirculation and evaporation continues. The storing of dirty water can also generate considerable challenges (Evans et al.). In Central Queensland a combination of extended drought conditions, continued new coal developments, a beleaguered agricultural sector and a new regulatory regime for managing water has kept the issue of water management for mineral exploitation at the top of the public agenda (Evans et al.).

Water availability is now a limiting factor on development in most Australian mining regions (Evans et al.). New Zealand, on the other hand, hasn’t been much constrained in its mining activities by poor access to water. However, with the release of the government’s new strategy (August, 2011) to harness significantly more of our oil and mineral resources, we must pause to consider that there are already competing demands for fresh water. How might a significant increase in lignite mining impact? How will it affect our clean, green vision?

Notwithstanding the obvious environmental concerns (discussed later), from a purely economic perspective, will mining lignite provide the best net benefit, compared to other ways of generating income? Tourism, growing food and trees, cleaner energy production, these and multiple other industries also depend to a large extent on the good health of our freshwater. The following review of a report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment is intended to provide further background to the lignite story, and leave you to form your own view. The government is inviting submissions on its energy strategy, perhaps you’ll be motivated to comment.

Review of the PCE Report, by Robyn Moore

In 2008/9, the government announced plans to exploit coal, including lignite, as a way to supplement New Zealand’s energy reserves, enhance export earnings and reduce debt. The government proposed releasing some of the Conservation Estate for this activity. However, more than 37,000 submissions were received, with overwhelming opposition to removing land from Schedule 4 protection (under the Crown Minerals Act, 1991), and the idea was shelved.

In a recently released report (NZ Energy Strategy, August 2011), the government outline their proposition to pursue the exploitation of crown minerals. Amendments to the Crown Minerals Act (1991) are in the pipeline, while the RMA has already been amended (RMAA, 2009), in recognition of these and other nationally significant plans.

The energy Minister relates that coal and petroleum are critical parts of our energy future suggesting that: Recent reports put New Zealand’s mineral and coal endowment in the hundreds of billions of dollars. For too long now we have not made the most of the wealth hidden in our hills, under the ground, and in our oceans. It is a priority of this government to responsibly develop those resources. Lignite is not specifically mentioned in the NZ Energy Strategy 2011, but it is a potential target for exploitation. The government had seemed particularly partial to the idea of converting lignite to diesel.

Parliamentary Commissioner Jan Wright suggests that lignite is a ‘very poor quality coal’ and that while New Zealand does indeed have lignite in abundance; the price of its exploitation is too high.  The government has signalled plans to increase the quantity of lignite mined by a hundred times or more. According to the Commissioner, what they have not adequately planned for is what to do about the huge amount of carbon dioxide that will be a by-product of lignite production and use.

Whatever you do with lignite – whether you burn it directly or convert it into something else – you end up with lots of unwanted carbon dioxide – greenhouse gas (PCE, 2011)…and under current rules in the ETS, the taxpayer could end up subsidising a lignite-to-diesel plant to the tune of a quarter of a billion dollars per year.

Parliamentary Commissioner Jan Wright has prepared a succinct, informative and persuasive report. The PCE has no powers to change policy or rules and with the new Energy Strategy, the government has made it clear they will press on with their intention to exploit assets to bring down debt, and their plans potentially include lignite. Will this be to the net cost or net benefit of this and future generations?

We are already on track to miss our greenhouse gas reduction targets by a massive margin and buying carbon credits offshore to make up the difference is not a sound or sustainable option, according to the Commissioner. Jan Wright observes:

The world is not short of lignite.

We are not unique in having lots of it.

This is not the way ahead for a clean green country.

Postscript: The government has indeed launched its venture to turn lignite into ‘gold’, announcing (on September 7, 2011) their intention to develop a $25 million briquetting plant in Southland. With no reference to the warnings from the Parliamentary Commissioner about the inherent long term risks and other costs in converting lignite to diesel, Finance Minister Bill English spoke of huge benefits and turned the first sod on the first stage of a plant that may process more than a billion tonnes of low-quality (brown) coal. What are the costs to produce the related tonnes of carbon emissions? Solid Energy chief, Dr Don Elder said that by the time the big projects – a lignite-to-urea plant and lignite-to-liquid fuel plant – begin construction, the company will have spent some $100m on feasibility studieshttp://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/business/5576737/First-sod-turned-for-black-gold-venture

For general info on lignite: http://www.geology.ar.gov/fossil_fuels/lignite.htm

This video is a lighthearted but informative look at lignite (brown coal) and the more efficient burning anthracite (black coal) – it’s aimed at teenage science enthusiasts:

Black Coal, Peat and Coke – YouTube

PCE Interview on lignite: http://youtu.be/83KVIU9RlMs

Posted in Environment, Geology, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Resource Management, RMA 1991, Uncategorized, water | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Avoiding the race to the bottom: The RMA – what does it mean to water in NZ?

Water is our national treasure – our toenga. It’s the reason free trade agreements with China and India might be win win. These vast nations, like the Middle East and the southern Great Plains of the US – are fast depleting their water tables, and they need a reliable source of grain and other edible produce. NZ could be Oceania’s food basket.

Some nations are seeking to buy up significant parcels of productive land here, perhaps to take advantage of our well-honed production methods and enviable lifestyle, but also our water allocations – this raises a concern…can we protect our ground water (surface water can be easier to monitor) from overuse and depletion, given the high stakes to secure farmland? – but that’s for another post.

Water gives us a  competitive advantage in all sorts of ways, not only in food production. Tourism is a serious export earner – our stunning lakes, rivers, streams and beaches attract tourists, even though we’re not cheap or fast to get to – not to dismiss the fact that our People are also a mighty good reason to come here.

Thanks to ibiblio.org for this image

So what happens when NZ starts filling the void left by the declining water tables in neighbouring nations? How can we ensure our water tables don’t suffer the same fate? Look to our close neighbours for lessons in what not to do. Melbourne and Adelaide were in an unfortunate ‘race to the bottom’ (see Walker and Salt 2006) with both now taking the path to desalination. It is worth noting that Melbourne’s decision to fund their $4.5 billion  desalination scheme is partly due to the risk from bushfires, as well as reduced catchment yields due to prolonged droughts, while their efforts in WSD (water sensitive design) are now world-leading (thanks to Stu from Designflow for reminding me of this). Interestingly, the dams are now filling again and desalination may be somewhat redundant – until the next drought.

Desalinated water is a very expensive way to irrigate (not to mention the emissions). Despite long experience and strong expertise in desalination, as their groundwater tables reach critical lows, Saudi Arabia has concluded desalination is not the answer to irrigation. So, after 2o years of ‘self-sufficiency’ in wheat (growing all they need), they will phase out all wheat production by 2012.

In 1991, an ‘elegant’ piece of legislation was enacted to promote sustainable management of New Zealand’s natural and physical resources. The RMA (or Resource Management Act) is pretty simple, and pretty clever, as regards to looking after our environmental, social and economic concerns, if only people had understood it better and sooner, and if only it hadn’t taken nearly 20 years to draft a National Water Policy Statement. National Policy Statement for Freshwater in New ZealandThis guiding document is welcome, but unless it becomes more prescriptive on review (limits are left entirely to interpretation, while broad terms like sustainable and integrated are not accompanied by definition), and unless my cynical self is wrong in thinking that this government’s 2009 RMA amendment seems to give more weight to economic gain before the environment, then I’m not sure the RMA as it is being implemented will do what we actually need to protect water quality for the kids and the grandkids, and so on. But, hope springs…the Water Forum (which I contributed to in 2010) has recommended a collaborative process to make better decisions and is working with government towards making a Fresh Start for Fresh Waterthat’s good.

Also good is the fact that in 2006, New Zealand joined Sweden, Finland, the Czech Republic and Britain as world-leaders in a study of 133 countries and their Environmental Performance Index. Six categories were evaluated: sustainable energy, environmental health, water resources, air quality, biodiversity and habitat, and productive natural resources. I imagine we’d still be up there today. Let’s do what we can to keep leading the world in environmental performance. If we look after the environment, it will look after us, and we’ll sustain our competitive advantage. We’ll also have the privilege of helping to ‘feed the world’.

So, rather than giving my opinion on the RMA and our water future, which is really dependent on the government’s next few moves, I’ll share a paper on the background to this legislation that might get you thinking. It was written for a course I’m taking…and there are a couple of links worth checking out too.

This is a little bit of history, nicely put:


and here is a link to heaps of NZ water stories, updated daily it appears:


If you’d like the references for the paper, please drop me a line. If you are referencing this article, here’s the format:

Moore, R. M. (2011). Environmental Law in New Zealand. In web article Avoiding the race to the bottom: the RMA – what does it mean to water in New Zealand? Retrieved from https://robynmmoore.wordpress.com/

Environmental Law in New Zealand by Robyn Moore

Today, few New Zealanders would question the importance of preserving and protecting our natural and physical heritage. Arguably, New Zealand’s soil, its relatively unpolluted air and its comparatively abundant water resources lie at the heart of this country’s livability (UNEP, 2010:5-6; Robb and Bright, 2004:42.1) and underpin its current and future prosperity (Land and Water Forum, 2010).

The Resource Management Act (RMA) (1991) was derived to protect New Zealand society’s interest in its environmental resources, directing users of a particular resource to remedy, mitigate or avoid any related adverse effects (RMA, 1991, Part 2, section 17).

The RMA was groundbreaking legislation in 1991, providing a simplified mechanism for managing the quality of land, air and water – under a single law (MfE, 2006). A feature of the Act is its statutory recognition of Maori values and interests, incorporating the concept of stewardship (or kaitiakitanga) and taking account of the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

It is evident from a search of the literature that the impacts of the RMA, in the twenty years since inception, are the subject of enduring debate and some review. Some commentators have argued that the effects based legislation is too flexible, while others counter that it is too rigid (see Hutchings, 1997 and OECD, 1996).  Arguments aside, most people with some experience of the rather ad hoc collection of more than 70 statutes and laws prior to 1991 (MfE, 2006:2), would agree that the RMA arrived none too soon, as it sought to streamline an important process for sustainable resource management – by putting effects-based limits on the ways we use and manage environmental resources in New Zealand. The exclusion of mining activity (Part 2, section 5.2) is noteworthy and is discussed in a later section.

Historical Development

Matiu, image by R Moore

Everyone who exercises functions under the RMA, has to do so for the single purpose of promoting sustainable management of the natural and physical resources involved (Sheppard, 2010).

While there are examples of resource management dating back to Roman times, the contemporary concept of environmental sustainability can be traced back to the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment in Stockholm, 1972, when OECD nations engaged in discussions about ways to ensure a more certain future for the world’s natural and physical resources (Environmental Defence Society, 2011; Williams, 1997).

The RMA began its evolution in the late 1980’s under a Labour government, following (and perhaps in response to) the Muldoon era of Think Big (Young, 2001; Envirohistory NZ, 2010). New Zealand had introduced groundbreaking legislation in 1941 with the Water and Soil Conservation Act (MfE, 2006). By the 1980s, there was a plethora of environmental legislation in effect. Two key acts, the Water and Soil Conservation Act 1967, and the Town and Country Planning Act 1977 were subject to numerous amendments. By the time Labour entered office (under the David Lange administration) in 1984, there was broad recognition of a need to review New Zealand’s environmental acts and amendments.

Work on streamlining and reforming 78 pieces of legislation into one act began in earnest in 1988 following Labour’s (1987) return to office (Environmental Defence, 2011). The guiding principle at that time was to deliver more sustainable development, by balancing (or trading off) economic gain with environmental ‘cost’ (Young, 2001). The approach prompted the concept of polluter pays (Gumley, 2000), first endorsed by the OECD in 1972 (see OECD, 1975).

In 1981, a report by the Nature Conservation Council had proposed New Zealand adopt an integrated approach to sustainable development (Environmental Defence, 2011), and in 1987, a description of what an integrated approach might mean was released in the form of the Brundlandt Report (1987). This seminal report proposed merging the decision making around the environment and economics to achieve the goal of sustainable development (Gumley, 2000; World Commission for Environment and Development, 1987) and offered a guiding definition:

Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (World Commission for Environment and Development, 1987).

In 1990, a change in government had prompted a review of the approach to the new Act, resulting in a shift of emphasis. Under the incoming National government, the focus turned to managing the environmental risk arising from the use of a particular resource (MfE, 2006; Envirohistory NZ, 2010). Thus, promoting sustainable management (defined in RMA, Section 5, Part II) is the fundamental purpose of the RMA (MfE, 2006; Hawke, 2006; Envirohistory NZ, 2010).

As noted by Buhr & Bartlett (1993), much environmental policy is reactionary, developed when environmental problems reached crisis point. In 1993, Buhr and Bartlett defined four main themes for developing successful environmental policy. Broadly, they suggested that:

1. Prevention is better than remedy (anticipatory policy) and;

2. To secure a better environment, people must change their ways, and;

3. To better manage environmental problems institutional reform was required, with

4.  An integrated approach to environmental policy development also required, to deal with interrelated problems and complexity.

Key themes

In line with Buhr and Bartlett’s (1993) commentary that an integrated approach is worth adopting, and working on the presumption that prevention is preferable to remedy, the RMA focuses on the environmental effects of activities, with the underlying assumption that any use, development or subdivision should proceed if there are no adverse environmental effects, or if those effects can be avoided, remedied or mitigated (MfE, 2006).

Essentially, the RMA is a rights structure that poses constraints and provides incentives for protecting the particular use of resources, creating an environmental conflict resolution framework (Hawke, 2006:1). Presumably the tragedy of the commons (whereby the value of a resource is eroded and finally depleted by unconstrained common use, as described in Hardin, 1968) can be avoided by the success of this structured decision making process, thereby sustaining the resource and its benefits for current and future generations.

There are three key themes to the Resource Management Act 1991:

1. Sustainable Management of Natural and Physical Resources

2. Integrated management of resources

3. Control of the adverse effects of activities on the environment.

As discussed, sustainable management (RMA, Section five) is about managing the risk of using a particular resource. The RMA integrates the management of air, water, soil and ecosystems into one streamlined piece of legislation (MfE, 2006). To this end, an overview of resource management issues, policies and methods is required, in the form of Regional Policy Statements prepared by each Regional Council.

The legislation requires ecological, social, economic and cultural adverse effects to be considered (RMA, 1991), with communities / individuals and organisations having a say in the resource consent process in the form of submissions. The submission process allows for thorough public consultation on activities that may have an effect on the environment.

The Environmental Defence Society (2011) has suggested that sustainable management is a narrower concept than sustainable development, with ensuing potential for some environmental planning to be reactive, rather than proactive.

Other Environmental Law/Legislation in New Zealand

While the most significant law concerning the environment is the Resource Management Act 1991 (with issues adjudicated by the Environment Court of New Zealand), the passing of the Environment Act 1986 and the Conservation Act 1987 are also significant, given they set up the Ministry for the Environment and created the office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment (MfE, 2008), as well as the Department of Conservation. Other important (and complementary) legislation includes the Biosecurities Act 1993, and the Hazardous Substances and New Organisms Act 1996 (implemented principally by the Environmental Risk Management Authority or ERMA). These are all important in making substantive progress towards a more sustainable society (PCE, 1997; MfE, 2006).

Thus, some resource management activities are outside the jurisdiction of the RMA, or overlap jurisdictions. Other overlapping jurisdictions include fish, shellfish and seaweed harvesting, managed under the Fisheries Act 1996, the logging of indigenous forests on private land (the Forests Act 1949), while marine pollution from ships and offshore structures is managed under the Maritime Transport Act 1994 (Environmental Defence Society, 2011).

It is notable that while the RMA deals with the environmental effects of mining and resource exploration, mining activity is dealt with by the Crown Minerals Act 1991, providing the instrument by which the Crown allocates rights to the exploitation of mineral resources such as gold, gas and coal (MfE, 2006). Recently, the National government sought feedback from the public on a discussion paper that proposed the release of more than 7,000 hectares of land from the protection of Schedule 4 of the Crown Minerals Act. The government received in excess of 37,000 submissions on the discussion paper and in July 2010 they announced their decision not to remove any land from Schedule 4 (MED, 2010). This level of interest in the future of New Zealand’s most protected environmental resources suggests strong public support for the guiding principles of sustainable development (as in Brundtlandt, 1987). Another government initiative, recently accepted into law, is the Resource Management (Simplifying and Streamlining) Amendment Act 2009. This Act makes significant changes to the Resource Management Act 1991, coming into force on 1 October 2009 (Environmental Defence Society, 2011). Time will tell whether the changes have the desired effect of improving outcomes for air, land and water, while at the same time enhancing socio-economic wellbeing and prosperity.


Some of the actions we take are not sustainable in the long term (MfE, 2006). In this context, this paper has sought to provide an overview of Environmental Law in New Zealand, its influences and its effects. In particular, there is a focus on the historical contexts of drafting and accepting the Resource Management Act 1991. The origins and influences of other environmental legislation have been discussed, such as the Environmental Act 1986 and the Conservation Act 1987. Moreover, the paper has considered the impact of international protocols, and reports like Brundlandt (1987), in shaping environmental law in New Zealand.

For twenty years the Resource Management Act has shaped the way New Zealand preserves and protects its natural and physical assets. Arguably, New Zealanders accept it is an essential part of a sustainable future. Given the significant rise in the environmental demands of society’s consumers over the last two decades, and with the related upsurge in dairy production and expanded tourism markets and activities, it would be interesting to understand the implications for New Zealand, if the RMA had not come into force on 1 October 1991. New Zealand is undoubtedly a world leader in legislative approaches to environmental management. However, environmental degradation remains a growing concern, suggesting people enforcing the RMA and other relevant legislation like the Biosecurities Act, could more effectively invoke the necessary resource management processes implied by the legislation (as advocated by Sheppard, 2010). New Zealand’s environmental legislation exists to preserve and protect our environmental resources, making an invaluable contribution to ensuring our sustainable future.

Related post: https://robynmmoore.wordpress.com/2010/09/25/the-price-of-progress/

For legislative detail: http://www.rmalink.org.nz/view-subtopic.php?id=15

Posted in Environment, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Resource Management, Resource Management Act, RMA 1991, water, water allocation, water management | Tagged , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Would you like more water with that?

Flat White Coffee

Flat White Coffee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There’s 120 litres of water in your morning cup of English Breakfast or Earl Grey. Multiply that by ten if you prefer a shot of espresso to start your day. If you enjoy a latte or flat white – another 100 litres of water should cover it.

Undeniably, water is everyone’s most valuable resource – but how can we better understand that value?  What are we using our water for and do we use it wisely? With a wonderful little app designed by some Harvard people, you can track water availability and use where you live, and compare it to other places around the globe. You can see domestic, agricultural and industrial uses – and you can clearly see the places with poor access to water.

With two clicks on the globe you’ll find that New Zealand has about the same water supply as our Australian neighbours, and you may be surprised that across the Tasman, they’re using, on average, twice the water we use per person, every day. How much of that is used by households or agriculture or otherwise? Hover your mouse over the country and you’ll get an idea.

Water is embodied in the things we grow, make and consume. Click an icon to see the water used in a variety of everyday consumables, like bottled water, sugar and soybeans. The downside of this app is it doesn’t appear to be country specific when rating how much water goes into each product. But for a guide to how each country is doing in terms of how much water it has and how much it uses, compared to other places in the world – this site delivers good information, fast.

Check it out here, and get any kids you know to have a look too. Here’s the Harvard story introducing their water footprinting online tool. This is a link direct to the app: http://www.josephbergen.com/viz/water/.

Some ‘water footprints’ from Massey University
Kiwi context – ‘milk footprint’ from Massey University 2011
Posted in Environment, tea, water allocation | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christchurch Earthquake – information

Updated 23 March, 2012 – CERA announce more homes in red zone  251 properties bordering the Avon River re-zoned from orange to red today.

My Property – search by address to find the land zone and technical category that applies to your Canterbury property. 

22 February, 2012 – The Canterbury Earthquake Recovery Authority (CERA) opened Christchurch’s red zone to media this month – the video takes you on a slow ride through town with accompanying commentary on what’s going, what’s gone and what may stay. The broken and open spaces are hosting a gradual return of vegetation and birdlife….thanks Daniel Tobin for compelling footage…watch it here

One year on from the Christchurch earthquake of 22 February, Prime Minister John Key has recalled his first impressions and actions: On the future – (Christchurch) “will be vibrant…and a great place to live…there’s the capacity now to develop a city from base zero, which you don’t normally get”…watch the video

Updated 18 January 2012 – Some good news just released from Red Cross:

Applications for the Independent Advice for Small Business grant (announced 11 Jan 2012) are available through Recover Canterbury.  A business wanting to apply for the grant can contact Recover Canterbury on 0800 50 50 96 or at www.recovercanterbury.co.nz.


Good information here:

www.redcrosseqgrants.org.nz for information on grants

Radio NZ National


One Stop Shock – Earthquake recovery information sheet (PDF) from the good folk at healthychristchurch.org.nz. Print it and keep handy.

Canterbury Earthquake – News and Resources (thefaultlineforum.com)

Christchurch Earthquake (archive – no longer updated)

Government Hotline for emergency assistance: 0800 779 997

For local emergencies: 111

 About Liquefaction

(ARCHIVE 2011)

Media Release: Tuesday, 31 May 2011 12:20 p.m.
Subject: Red Cross Commission announces grant for power for elderly

Red Cross Commission announces grants for power for the elderly and a relocation grant for school children

Red Cross 2011 Earthquake Commission met in Christchurch on Monday and have confirmed two new grants to help Christchurch residents get back on their feet following the 22 February earthquake.

The first new grant will provide an electric heating subsidy to people over 65 who are living in a damaged home.

Sir John Hansen, chair of the Red Cross 2011 Earthquake Commission says the Commission sees helping people, particularly the elderly to keep warm in Christchurch this winter, as a top priority and the Red Cross Commission will be looking to assist other medically vulnerable people with winter heating costs

“We have looked closely at existing support to meet winter electricity and heating costs and have a new grant which will complement Government and other programmes.  It is clear from our discussions that the elderly residents of houses with earthquake damage need assistance urgently.  For every approved applicant the Red Cross 2011 Earthquake Appeal will contribute $100 each month for four months directly to the electricity retailers.  There will be appropriate criteria to ensure only the approximately 5,800 eligible elderly households receive this support”.

The form and criteria for the Earthquake Winter Assistance Grant for the Elderly will be available on Wednesday 1 June and the grant will close on 27 June 2011.

The second new grant – Relocated School Children grant will cover pupils attending their existing school but commuting a significant distance because of earthquake damage to their houses, forcing them to relocate.

Hansen says, “This new schools grant reflects that there are costs and levels of issues being faced by children and families where their school has remained open but they have had to move.  The Commission has set up the Relocated School Children Grant to reflect the costs and issues faced by families. Those who qualify have combinations of damaged houses and streets and restricted services, the grants are not just covering school costs but reflect these hardship issues.”…

Over $64 million dollars has been raised to date in the New Zealand Red Cross 2011 Earthquake Appeal, with over $45 million is grants already disbursed to over 51,000 affected Christchurch residents.


Water and Wastewater

  • The two large shakes on June 13th (and the December 2011 events) damaged pipes again. Cross contamination is a risk when pipes break. Boil water until Council gives the all clear. Even once the pipes are repaired, tapwater will continue to be chlorinated as a preventative measure, until officials are confident their is no longer any contamination.
  • You can reduce that chlorine taste by filling jugs or bottles with the water and leaving them in the fridge or somewhere cool for a few hours or overnight (lids off works best).
  • Water conservation measures are still vital…the shorter the shower the better, and use quick (eco/time-saver) laundry and dish wash settings (you may have to open the door straight after the dishwasher cycle to dry off dishes – compared to normal settings, the eco setting generally uses lower water temperatures and less drying power, as well as less water.
  • Flush toilets sparingly and only if functioning properly. If your toilet blocks on flushing, don’t flush again – have a plumber check it out first.
  • Saving water from going down the sewer (using half flushes and running taps on less than their full pressure, for example) allows mains water pressure to rise, while keeping the strain off sewerage systems and reducing the contamination risk.

This 1996 video by the Inside NZ team is intriguing…and there’s a simple explanation of liquefaction. I can’t vouch for all content…scientific thinking can of course be subject to change.

Posted in Earthquake, emergency management, Environment, water | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Earthquake or drought: The joy of a bright orange – or green or blue – water tank

More than one billion people drink unsafe water, with children suffering most, from the illnesses and malnutrition that result.

Thanks Oxfam for the joy and for this image

Photo credit: Mary Kudla and Taipida Moodhitaporn

Following a disaster like earthquake, access to clean water is a priority, hastening recovery for communities, as with the water ‘sorted’, they can concentrate their energies and limited resources on other aspects of health and welfare. Thanks Oxfam, for sharing the story of these bright orange water tanks on your blog.

Unicef has its own water stories, and I particularly like this You Tube clip. Here, raintanks are fairly large and connected to the roof, building self sufficiency, as their water replenishes itself. In the rainy season, stormwater kept clean and detained in tanks is a great advantage, as water off buildings is prevented from sweeping over already waterlogged ground, minimising flood risk. In Indonesia, villagers rely on people coming to fill their tanks every day or weekly…the bright orange tanks are lightweight for carting through dense bush or damaged landscapes. The downside of this is that they can only provide water for a day or a week at a time. And the orange tanks aren’t hooked up to a catchment system like a tarpaulin or an iron roof, so the water isn’t replenished direct from the skies…Whatever the issues, the benefits are clear, water tanks provide a lifeline in and after disaster.

Bright orange water tank Image via Oxfam

Thanks Oxfam for this image

To Unicef and Oxfam…keep up the epic work. And to my council in Porirua, thanks for having the wisdom to put 40 large rainwater tanks in accessible places right around our city. Water is a lifeline in an emergency, and finding joy in a ‘bright orange’ – or green or blue – watertank – is not limited to developing nations. Clean water is a must for all of us.

Here’s Unicef’s story. Safe water – all year – for communities in Paraguay:

Related link: Oxfam News Blog

Posted in Earthquake, emergency management, Environment, Porirua, Uncategorized, water | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Underwater ‘rainforests’, world warming and more – on water

These water stories have my attention right now…

  • Killer floods and landslides in eastern Sri Lanka where more than 360,000 people fled their homes…more
  • Massive crop losses and 70 deaths in South African flooding since December, with eight out of nine provinces declared disaster zones…more
  • A story on climate…it’s official apparently – 2010 was the wettest year on record, and it was one of the warmest tooequal with 2005
  • Brazil is in the news still, with disastrous floods and landslides killing more than 700 and displacing many since January 11, north east of Brazil’s capital Rio. …more
  • With Australia’s still unfolding flood crisis affecting Tasmania and Victoria, in addition to Queensland and parts of NSW, water and climate stories threaten to eclipse other news
  • As I edit this, Tutong District in Brunei Darussalam (on the island of Borneo, S.E Asia – pop. 400,000) is under more than their fair share of water, and rain warnings are out for parts of NZ (see link below). After the golden weather we’ve had, flooding is all the more likely, with the dry earth sometimes as hard as concrete.

In 2010, snowstorms shattered seasonal statistics across the USA and Europe; a scorching summer heatwave broke records in Russia; floods forced people from their homes in Pakistan, Australia, and a number of US states; and Thailand experienced a widespread wipe-out of its coral reefs – what records can we expect in 2011? We’ve chalked up a couple already…

One more water story – some (potentially) good news about saving the coral reefs…thanks to Todayonline and the Guardian for this…

TODAYonline | Science | Saving the rainforests of the sea

05:55 AM Jan 15, 2011

LONDON – Conservationists have unveiled plans to preserve and protect the world’s most important species of coral, in a response to increasing threats that they say will lead to “functional extinction” within decades.

Led by scientists at the Zoological Society of London (ZSL), the Edge Coral Reefs project has identified 10 coral species in most urgent risk of becoming extinct.

The scientists say that reefs are under pressure from a variety of threats including rising sea temperatures due to climate change, increased acidity, overfishing and pollution.

The Edge plan, which focusses on the most evolutionarily distinct and globally endangered species, will take a regional approach to conservation.

Unbleached and bleached coral.

Image via Wikipedia

This means focussing on the “coral triangle” around the Philippines, the west Indian ocean around the Mozambique channel, and in the Caribbean channel.

“Coral reefs are threatened with functional extinction in the next 20 to 50 years, due predominantly to global climate change,” said Ms Catherine Head, coordinator of the reef project.

“In these regions, we’ll be supporting and training in-country conservationists to carry out research and implement targeted conservation actions.”

Coral reefs are the planet’s most diverse marine ecosystem – known as the rainforests of the oceans. Despite taking up under 0.2 per cent of the ocean floor, they harbour up to a third of all marine life.

Climate change, which leads to rising sea temperatures, causes corals to bleach. “Bleaching occurs when sea temperatures rise and this causes the coral tissue to expel their symbiotic algae called zooxanthellae – these are what give the coral their colour,” said Ms Head. “2010 seems set to have been one of the worst years for coral bleaching. There have been reports on the coast of Indonesia of up to 100-per-cent bleaching of many coral colonies. In 1998, 16 per cent of the global coral reefs were killed through bleaching.

While it is bleached, a coral cannot photosynthesise and it is, in effect, not feeding. There is a limited period of time, around a few months, where the coral needs to reacquire zooxanthellae or else it will die. “Bleached reefs take several years to recover from that sort of insult. As bleaching events get closer together, the potential for mortality increases.”

Among the 10 species chosen to start the Edge project are the pearl bubble coral (Physogyra lichtensteini), a food source for the hawksbill turtle, and the mushroom coral (Heliofungia actiniformis) – which supports at least 15 brightly coloured shrimp including the popcorn shrimp (Periclimenes kororensis).

Thanks to enjoy.org for this image

Part of the solution in the future will be to designate more of the ocean as marine protected areas, said the conservationists.

Until then, the focus will remain on increasing the resilience of reefs to environmental change.

“That means trying to reduce overfishing and pollution pressures,” said Ms Rachel Jones, a keeper at the London Zoo aquarium. She added: “The environment is changing faster now than it ever has done before. Corals have evolved to live within a very specific set of parameters. They’re right at the interface between air and sea and it’s a very difficult environment to live in. But they’ve evolved to live there as long as those parameters are steady. At the moment those parameters are shifting in a way that the corals just can’t keep up with.” THE GUARDIAN  –  END

Posted in emergency management, Environment, flood, Uncategorized, water, water management, WSD | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Dirty rivers and streams – time for a change

Wairau River Map

Image via Wikipedia

Thanks to PENNY WARDLE – The Marlborough Express – for this story.

The Wairau is one of the South Island’s longer rivers – at around 170 km. Along its lower reaches are some of New Zealand’s foremost wineries…

Dirty rivers campaign begins

11.1.11 – Green Party co-leader Russel Norman kicked off a dirty and threatened rivers campaign in Marlborough yesterday with a rafting trip down the Wairau River.

Wairau River Bridge-2

Image by angusgr via Flickr

Mr Norman visited freshwater crayfish farmer Pieter Wilhelmus at his business up river from Wairau Valley township and talked to farmers John and Joan McLauchlan, who have battled electricity company TrustPower’s plans to build a power scheme across their land.

Mr Norman said freshwater fish farms were the canary in the coal mine on clean water. While some farmers had done a good job of fencing waterways and keeping them clean, a few were doing a bad job.

“The impact has been felt on a stream that should be crystal clear.”

Mr Wilhelmus claimed he had battled problems with the river being polluted by deer and dairy cows, and farmers objected to his resource consent for fish-farming being renewed. The costs involved with renewing the consent meant that he and his wife, Coreen, had to work off the property and no longer farmed organic salmon, although they continued to grow freshwater crayfish.

Mr Norman said the couple’s problems were a microcosm on what was happening in other parts of the country.

“That’s why we need standard rules, a national policy statement on freshwater management, which is currently sitting on Nick Smith‘s desk waiting to be signed.”

…Erosion and flooding in Marlborough during the past fortnight had brought to the fore the importance of high environmental standards, Mr Norman said. The plantation forestry industry was pushing for more permissive standards, as New Zealand moved towards a national environmental standard to replace district council rules. Forestry logs and trees that slipped off hillsides blocked rivers, causing flooding, and tonnes of silt were washed down rivers. END


Related Articles

Posted in Environment, Geology, Uncategorized, water, water allocation, water management, WSD | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Village planning ‘unplugged’

Here’s a walk through Porirua city’s village planning programme, meeting the people, seeing the places, the changes…for good.

It’s not just our waterways that are benefiting from Porirua’s innovative village planning programme…

Thanks to:

Video Producer: Pamela Meekings-Stewart
Field Director: Cheryl Cameron
Camera/Editor: Matthew Warmington

Posted in Environment, Nick Leggett, Porirua, Uncategorized, water, WSD | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The Earth – another good read

I caught bookblogger Graham Beattie reviewing some top reads for 2010 on Radio NZ National today, and wanted to share a quote from his blog. Beattie attributes it to author Margaret Coel:

I noticed during takeoffs and landings I don’t have to turn off my book!

So if you’re off somewhere and want to read a great book – and not be disturbed during takeoff or landing – I have another title to share with you…

The Earth – an intimate history by Richard Fortey (2004)

Cover of

Cover of Earth: An Intimate History

With sheer simplicity of explanation, constructing a cascade of facts and ideas into beautiful word pictures (somewhat erudite yes – but that’s part of the charm), paleontologist Richard Fortey describes the intimate details of our earth’s geology in 400 pages or so.

I’m working on a project that involves deepening my understanding of tectonic plates and the way they move – this book is magical in the way it  lights up the ‘netherworld’ for people like me – not scientists – but lovers of science.

This is a book to dip into. Chapter Five ‘Plates’ is one I go back to…here’s Fortey’s perspective on the place of the oceans:

Geology dictates the lie of the land, and climate controls how the design of the world accommodates life. But climate itself is in thrall to geology. A landmass over the poles permits ice sheets to grow, and this mediates the sea levels of the world. There have been warm times when much of the land mass has drowned, and such times will come again. Mountain ranges modify weather systems, specify where there shall be deserts, and steal rain. Then, too, oceans are great climatic modifiers. Think how the coast of Europe is so ice free while the icebergs drift off frozen Labrador, at the same latitude. The North Atlantic Drift (Gulf Stream) moves warmth northwards – but only for some…The shape of the ocean basins is the stuff of climate: deep gyres transfer cool water and nutrients around the world. Yet ocean and mountain are no more than a consequence of the geological foundation: the arrangement of plates in this mosaic of our earth. Change the plates and you will rearrange everything else. Mankind is no more than a parasitic tick gorging himself on temporary plenty while the seas are low and the climate comparatively clement. But the present arrangement of land and sea will change, and with it our brief supremacy.

A book to dip into, and one that may set some people’s teeth on edge – but for enriching our understanding of our world – definitely worth a trip to the library.

Porirua library has more than one copy – it must be popular…

Here’s the intro to Chapter 13 – World View. It’s the last chapter, another I have read, and read again:

The marvellous thing about the face of the earth is that it is such a mess. It is an impossibly complex jigsaw puzzle of different rocks. Like Gilbert and Sullivan‘s wandering minstrel, it is ‘a thing of shreds and patches.’ More than 3.5 billion years of history have stitched it together. It has been modelled and remodelled, split asunder and rejoined in tune with the waxing and waning of the oceans. Here, continents have been inundated by shallow seas which have then drained away, leaving a legacy of sandstones or limestones, shales or gravels…


Richard D'Oyly Carte, W. S. Gibert, and Arthur...

Image via Wikipedia

(Thanks wiki for this Gilbert and Sullivan image)

The Economist describes Fortey as a master of science writing – though I’m not qualified to comment about mastery – Earth is a book worth reading.

Fortey has recently updated his popular classic on the British landscape – another good read – 320 pages of engaging text and evocative images. The Financial Times (A. N. Wilson, 22 May 2010) writes: A superbly exciting work of popular scientific writing that reminds us that this planet has never been a tranquil place. Here are some other reviews for The hidden landscape: a journey into the geological past (2010)http://www.amazon.co.uk/product-reviews/1847920713/ref=dp_db_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1

via Amazon.co.uk


Posted in Earthquake, Environment, Geology, Uncategorized, water | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Dancing at the Dead Sea and more – 3 books to read and read again


Thanks greenprophet.com for this image

My holiday reading has included re-reading three powerful narratives.

These really hit the spot in terms of entwining a good read with science, history, adventure, questions, and to an extent – answers – to some of the pressing problems of our times:

Cover of "Dancing at the Dead Sea: Tracki...

Cover via Amazon

Dancing at the Dead Sea by Alanna Mitchell (2005)

Water from Heaven by Robert Kandel (2003 English Version)

An Ocean of Air by Gabrielle Walker (2007)

Cover of "An Ocean of Air: A Natural Hist...

Cover via Amazon

I am on my third reading of Gabrielle Walker’s vivid account of the history of our earth’s atmosphere. With each reading, I feel like I’ve discovered a new piece of the ‘universal jigsaw’, conjuring up a little more understanding – new thinking – about planet Earth and its support systems – about those atmospheric gases, water not least, that so cleverly sustain us. Adventure, exploration, colour, vivid description – these books have them in spades.

This is from Gabrielle Walker’s fifth chapter The Hole Story:

Image of the top layers of the earth's atmosph...

Image via Wikipedia

Ozone is a beautiful gas. Unlike its closest relative, oxygen, which is invisible, ozone is a vibrant shade of blue. When Dublin scientist W. M. Hartley began working on the gas in 1881, he was enchanted by its colour, ‘as blue as the sky on a brilliant day’. And though some people were inclined to find the smell of ozone disagreeably pungent, Hartley thought it fresh, as after a great thunderstorm when the world has been washed clean…Starting some thirty kilometres above the ground, it (ozone)  forms a protective layer, the first of the air’s three silver linings that shield every living creature from the hostility of space. – pages 151-152

Thanks mnn.com for this image

Alanna Mitchell pressed for answers to perplexing environmental problems after dancing – ‘celebrating life’ – at the edge of the near-ruined Dead Sea. Yes, the Dead Sea is diminishing – it’s level dropping by around a metre a year. Despite this and other environmental catastrophes chronicled in Alanna Mitchell’s ‘Darwinian’ journey  (less the ‘origin’ and more the ‘fate’ of the species) – from Madagascar and the Galapagos Islands to the Amazon and the Arctic – the book is optimistic, hopeful:

It is clear that humans have become as powerful geological force as the four elements of water, air, earth and fire that the ancients believed made up the cosmos. Humans are so numerous, so ravenous, so self-centered a species that we have become the fifth element…I am convinced that if we do things differently we can flourish, as could other species on this planet. We’re just not doing things wisely enough yet. It’s understandable. We haven’t needed to do so before. Now we must change, and I believe we can…It is the human legacy to change, even as we fail to notice that we are doing so. It is our legacy – as a species and even as individuals – to keep going, even when  it seems that the end has come. We may weep at the Dead Sea, but we will also learn to dance. – pages 14-15

Perhaps a tad more scientific than the other titles, Kandel’s Water from Heaven is a definitive guide to the life and times of water – a billion billion tons of it – arriving here 4 billion or so years back. From El Nino and La Nina weather patterns, and Continental Drift, to drains, dams and desalination, Kandel misses little. For solid science and theory about water, where it comes from, where it goes and how it ties in with the elements that make for our human existence on Earth, don’t go past this book.

Image via Wikipedia

How did it all begin?

Buried in the earth’s crust, miners can still extract – blessing or curse? – uranium and other radioactive elements made in a supernova explosion less than five billion years ago. Old Mother earth is still young enough to have kept some traces of this event. After ten billion years, the uranium would be much rarer, half of it decaying to lead every 4.5 billion years…

The Earth’s childhood having been particularly tumultuous, few rocks older than three billion years are to be found today. Nevertheless, the specialists are convinced the solar system was formed 4.6 billion years ago…At the very beginning of this process, the condensation destined to become Earth was surrounded by a cloud consisting mainly of hydrogen and helium, with some water vapour as well…

A color photograph of the Earth and Moon on De...

Image via Wikipedia

Where then does the water of the Earth come from?…For a billion years following the birth of the earth, its surface, like the surfaces of the Moon, Mars, and Mercury, was intensely bombarded by meteorites, some of which contained water. The marks of these impacts have, for the most part, long been erased by erosion on Earth, to a lesser extent also on Mars, but they are still clear on the pock-marked surfaces of the Moon and Mercury…it is difficult to calculate exactly how many tons of impacting meteorites were necessary…The water needed to fill the oceans must have come with enough debris to make a layer a hundred kilometres thick, much thicker than the Earth’s crust as we know it today…Water arrived from the skies, but the atmospheric water of the first ages of our planet must have been lost if not recycled in the Earth long ago. Water arrived as the first solid matter condensed to form the proto-Earth, it arrived during the accretion phase as the planet acquired its final mass, perhaps also during the following billion years. It arrived in solid or frozen granules and in the hydrated minerals that accumulated as the planet formed, perhaps also with the rain of comets or meteorites, the debris of asteroids…Today the oceans cover 71 per cent of the planet’s surface; their average depth is 3,700 meters (over 12,000 feet), so that they contain 1.35 billion cubic kilometres or 1,350 billion billion litres of water. Enormous as such a figure is, it still represents only .02 per cent of the total mass of the Earth. – pages 24-25

All three titles are available in NZ libraries, and I’ve added Amazon links. Happy reading!

Posted in Environment, Resource Management, Uncategorized, water management | Tagged , , , , , , , | 8 Comments

Mainland Farmers of the Year – amazing Averys

Avery farm, Bonaveree, New Zealand

Bonaveree – Eastern Marlborough

South Island Farmer of the Year is Doug Avery – what a well deserved win!

Awesome farming family, the Averys, of Starborough Flaxbourne Soil Conservation fame (see earlier posts) have shown New Zealand that with clever, collaborative, systems thinking – with dogged determination to leave behind what’s not working and try new ways, farming dryland can be profitable and hugely rewarding.

Doug, with wife Wendy, son Fraser (who Doug reminds us, is the Boss!) and daughter-in-law Shelley, accepted the award at Lincoln University in Christchurch last Friday. Judges had paid two visits to the Avery farm in Grassmere and heard prepared speeches, before announcing their winner.

Fenced off cabbage trees at Bonaveree farm - soon to be joined by a further 50 hectares for regenerating natives
Fenced off cabbage trees at the Avery farm

The family stood out because they had drought-proofed their property by changing the way they farmed, said judge Neil Taylor, also foundation chair.

By integrating animal and plant relationships they have attained very high performance on what is pretty poor country. Where others have partly introduced lucerne to their properties, they have done it across the whole farming system and integrated it with other plants to ensure best results.

Here are some words from Doug, courtesy of the Marlborough Express:

Our family team has gone hard out over the last 10 years to overcome the drying of eastern Marlborough. The last five years of the ’90s was shocking and our system failed. As a family we feel humbled given the standard of the competition. We’re also extremely bloody grateful to the people that have helped us.

Read about the Starborough Flaxbourne Project (Rural Delivery, 2008) here. Doug took Rob Cope-Williams around the farm in October. Here’s the CTV interview:

Doug, you’re out there spreading the word right across the country that here in Godzone we can do farming differently, with less water, and better soil conservation practices. And we can do it and still make money.

The central issue is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. The core of the matter is always about changing the behaviour of people (John Kotter in H. W Dettmer, 2007:314). With Doug out there changing New Zealand one farm at a time, and Landcare working their magic too, we’re taking small, steady steps to a more secure future for our soil and and water. If we take that leap? Imagine the difference!

Update 2012: Check out Dryland Pastures – a blog from Lincoln University that aims to pass on latest research findings and other information related to farming dryland pastures. You can see on-farm activity and photos from dryland research projects at Ashley Dene (Lincoln Universitys Dryland Research Farm) and from the Marlborough farmers involved in the Technology Transfer for Dryland Farmers project, including from: ‘Bonavaree’ (Doug & Fraser Avery), ‘Breach Oak’ (Warwick & Lisa Lissaman), ‘Pyramid’ (Chris & Julia Dawkins) and ‘Tempello’ (David & Jo Grigg). You can find details about the properties and see farmer presentations from the Dryland Legumes Workshop (2012) at www.lincoln.ac.nz/dryland.

Update April 2013: Here’s Doug sharing more wisdom and insights into why and how to make the change to better farming systems, like sowing lucerne instead of rye and clover. Research is always going on and one of the latest outcomes we hear about in this video, near a decade on from making the change,  is stock developing noticeably earlier rumen function. Lambs on lucerne wean earlier and have a lifetime better performance. Another gem from Doug is on the benefits of tagasaste or tree lucerne – this attracts and strengthens the bee population, ready for when the lucerne pasture flowers, so the bees stick around to pollinate that too. This is worth watching – definitely:

Posted in Environment, Uncategorized, water, water allocation, water management | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Porirua’s Village Planning is a World Winner

Press Release, 8th November 2010
EMBARGO: 00:01 9th November 2010
UNEP LivCom Awards, Chicago, USA

Cutting edge environmental projects from Canada, South Africa and New Zealand win praise at UN-backed global awards event. Four environmental and community initiatives from countries as diverse as Canada, South Africa, New Zealand and the Ukraine were saluted last Monday (8th November) as world beating.

The winning schemes were chosen at the annual finals of the International Awards for Liveable Communities (LivCom) held in Chicago, USA (4-8 November). The UN-endorsed LivCom awards annually bring together some of the world’s leading innovators in the field.

This year’s finalists included representatives from some of the smallest communities on the planet (Emly, Republic of Ireland – Population 900) to some of the very largest (Medellin, Colombia – 3.8million). […] The award winning “natural” project from Johannesburg, South Africa had highlighted efforts to green the city to contribute to global climate protection. Project judge Gus Stahlmann (USA) said the award winning project had impressed the judges because of its impact on daily lives. The Greening the City Legacy Project seeks to balance the distribution of the urban forest throughout the entire city, bringing a green environment to the entire population of Johannesburg.

The winner of the “built” project category was the scheme to turn an industrial wasteland in the city of Vancouver, the Southeast False Creek, into a vibrant, model sustainable community. The test of its success came with the housing of 2800 athletes competing at the 2010 Winter Olympics. Gus Stahlmann described it as: An exciting LEEDs standard redevelopment project, fast tracked to create a world-class environment for Olympic athletes, with future long-term opportunities for living, shopping, and working.

Judges turned to New Zealand to find the finest example of a world leading socio economic project, awarding first place to a town planning scheme (Village Planning) in the community of Porirua in the North Island. The programme won praise for the way in which it had engaged and empowered its citizens. This program engages and empowers residents in each sector of the city to develop and implement plans in their own way to reflect the distinct identity of each village. It is a groundbreaking partnership between the city council and the communities it serves. END

Great news and well deserved Porirua!

Ian Barlow, Porirua’s Village Planning entrepreneur deserves a medal for his part in our gaining this esteemed award….thanks Ian – you’re the partner in partnership.

New Mayor Nick Leggett was in Chicago for the awards, delighted at the opportunity to ‘showcase Porirua on the world stage’. Thanks to Simpson Grierson and the Mana Community Grants Foundation for assisting with funding, and to all the hard-working PCC staff and community volunteers who make Village Planning such a success.

Taking back the carpark! Village Planning in action. Image by Robyn Moore

See results, citations and images at www.livcomawards.com. We took home two other awards, including a second in the ‘Whole of City’ category and another first for ‘Community Sustainability’. I’ll aim to put up the two video presentations that Porirua’s team took to Chicago. I imagine they’ll appear on the PCC website soon.

In the meantime take a listen to this song by Joni Mitchell – see pic on the left. Paradise found:)

Here’s Joni:

Posted in Environment, Porirua, Uncategorized, water, water management | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Affordable water – Porirua’s Water Guy shows you how to fix water leaks at your place

An evening view of Karehana Bay, from Paremata...

Image via Wikipedia

Porirua has been short-listed for the World’s Most Livable City by the United Nations. It’s innovative initiatives like this one that keep Porirua on track to securing a better future. Good on you Porirua – you’re one cool little city!!

Porirua’s Water Guy is Austin Roberts and since April this year he has been on a mission to bring water savings to each and every household in the city. He shows residents how to fix dripping outside taps and can talk them through fixing leaking indoor taps and toilet cisterns, leaving a brochure (and sometimes a washer or two) so they can do future simple repairs for themselves. And if a brochure and a chat with Austin isn’t enough to get people on track with those water savings, now there are great little online videos.

According to Porirua City Council staff, their Water Guy has brought yearly water savings to the city of around three million litres – just from the leaks he has located and repaired. Add to that significant power savings for residents who have had their hot water leaks fixed.

Dripping tap

Stop the drip

Securing Porirua’s status as one of the most livable cities is about cementing some pretty critical mindshifts. With our Water Guy, we’re shifting the way we think about and use water – household by household, street by street. And business by business too, I hope. When the whole community gets thinking about easy ways to save water and taking care what goes down our drains, we take enormous pressure off waste and stormwater systems, we make water more affordable, and we enhance the health of our waterways – We all win!

You can find these videos and lots more on Porirua City Council’s website – check it out and spread the word: http://www.pcc.govt.nz/News—Events/Latest-News/Help-Save-Water

And you can also see Austin fixing those leaks right here…

Here’s some background to Porirua’s place on the UN livable communities shortlist. The winner will be known by November 8, 2010. Launched in 1997, the LivCom Awards are endorsed by the United Nations Environment Programme or UNEP, seeking out best practice in managing the local environment. The LivCom mission is: to improve the quality of life of individual citizens through the creation of ‘liveable communities’. LivCom is non-political and embraces all nations and cultures. More than 50 countries are represented within this year’s awards in Chicago. From November 4 to 8 you can be there – go to the ‘world’s most livable city’ link at the top of the page to see live streaming of the awards.

Posted in Environment, Porirua, Uncategorized, water, water management | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

The price of water

Tess at Pauatahanui Inlet
Pauatahanui Inlet – rmm

What price for water? In 2001, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Morgan Williams observed that enhancing and advancing water management is primarily a socio-political challenge, rather than an economic or a technical one. Nearly ten years have passed since two PCE reports (2000, 2001) signaled the need for big changes in the way we manage our water, and gave compelling reasons as to why change was needed sooner, rather than later. But are water markets the answer? I suspect not.

For a year, a government appointed land and water forum has debated the implications and opportunities, the economics and the social-cultural contexts around a better way to manage water resources in New Zealand. Have they come up with a workable solution? Their report lists 53 recommendations, and some are well considered. Others? I am concerned that statistical economic efficiency models and a philosophy that technical solutions can solve any challenge, threaten to overwhelm the social, cultural and environmental realities. 

Nutrification - pollution from a Wairarapa dairy farm

Nutrification - pollution from a Wairarapa dairy farm - via Flickr

The forum’s observations are largely spot on. Yes, in 10 years, farm and other point source pollution (like sewerage discharges) have diminished. But nutrification – the primary cause of our ‘dirty – even unswimmable – rivers’ has not. There are some good recommendations for what needs to change. But, I can’t see any promise in their key proposal – to allocate or trade water rights in a synthetic market place.

I hope that Nick Smith and his advisers take a deep breath before spending too much time and money on this proposed ‘solution’. Think about the issues around energy spot prices – what pitfalls are we experiencing there? Think of all the examples where market trading has not only failed to protect the resource, it has worked against the good of the resource. Examples that immediately come to mind are the Goulbourn Broken River Catchment/Murray Darling, the Colorado River, and the River Jordan – the sharing of this water resource across nations adds all sorts of complications – and an ‘economic model’ for water allocation has done nothing to protect the river and its tributories from serious decline.


The western United States have well established water markets and Colorado is one of the most active. Worldwide annual revenues reach $300 billion, with the USA accounting for around half of that. Profits go to those who don't use their water allocation and sell it. Conveniently downriver from less intensive water-users, California has long diverted unused water allocation from other states. Although its allocation is 4.4 maf (million acre-feet) of Colorado River water, California uses well over that (about 5.2 maf back in 1997). Arizona used to divert its unused allocation to California. By 1998, it had started banking and trading all its unused allocated water, despite having been on track to retain a surplus til 2050. In 2001, guidelines were set down for determining when surplus Colorado River water would be available for California, Nevada and Arizona. The criteria will be effective until 2016, giving California just a few more years to develop water conservation, recycling and storage programmes that may reduce its over-use of Colorado River water.

I look forward to the deeper debate – the first-come-first served system has flaws, so something needs changing. Are the forum members looking at symptoms, more than cause though? There is a reluctance (or more likely, a lack of understanding) by those with water rights, to take water conservation and protection as seriously as they should. Financial risk is one way to try to ensure better care, but education must go hand in hand with this. What to do and why are part of the picture, but so is knowing how.

Water rights with user pays and a national water policy plan might bring about action, but encouraging the right action is another challenge altogether. What compels farmers to fence off most of their waterways from stock? Isn’t it about understanding systems? About balancing the benefits of healthier plant, soil and water systems, with the costs of not doing it. In a water rights auction, if a farmer has had to pay over the odds for ‘their’ piece of water, because someone else wanted it badly, how much is left over to protect it for other users?

Farmers are open to managing water better, as with the reduction in point source pollution and fencing off waterways.  Farmers understand soil and water don’t they? They know their environmental and economic limits. They have known about ‘sustainable practices’ driving ‘sustainable business’ for longer than we’ve been using the jargon. Our communities – urban and rural, iwi, industry, all of us, need to think about what our goals are. We want healthy soil and water. We want to be able to swim and kayak in our waterways, to relax, to fish, to paint and photograph them, and we want them to continue to support the ecology we value and the progress we want.

Tradable water rights can have a significant downside. They reward ‘economic efficiency’ – yes. But, this efficiency does not necessarily mean being conservative and protective of a resource. Do we want dams or another borefield above more conservative water use and reduced contamination? Progress is fine, but to the Land and Water Forum – please give us a plan for protecting water use that doesn’t sell our future to the highest bidder.

On water and politics
On a local issue connected to the above discussion. We have local body elections coming up in October and it is fantastic to see the candidates talking about sewerage and water, and about funding action to sort out our beautiful – but declining – local waterways.

Porirua harbour and the neighbouring Pauatahanui inlet need cleaning up. Silt and nutrification aren’t unexpected where there is economic activity, and Porirua is no exception. But, the premise of the RMA (Resource Management Act, 1991) is that we can expect actions to remedy or reduce these undesirable effects, well before reaching the threshold at which there is no going back – before reaching the tipping point. Pauatahanui inlet is close to its tipping point. It’s close to becoming a walkway, there’s so much silt.   

Silting is a known side-effect of some dam sites and naturally occurs to some extent in rivers, streams and inlets. It is also the unexpected result of sub-dividing and road construction, as in Porirua’s case – where due care wasn’t taken to contain eroding soil and sediment and where changes in land use have contributed to flooding. The Pauatahanui Inlet has changed in 10 years, some might say, irrevocably – let’s hope not. Poor sub-division management, cracks in underwater sewerage pipes, untreated discharges, and general run-off, combine to diminish the value of the inlet to the ecology it has long supported.

boat sheds
Pauatahanui sheds – image by rmm

Mayoral candidate Nick Leggett and at least two incumbent Councillors have promised action to reverse the inlet’s serious decline, by remedying the broken pipes, and getting tough on those responsible for all that silt – those ‘muddy waters’. It’s not too late to do everything we can to save this natural jewel for future generations to play in and be proud of.

Posted in Environment, Nick Leggett, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Porirua, Uncategorized, water, water allocation, water management | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Kapiti moves to secure their water supply

Kapiti from Pukerua Bay
Kapiti Island – Image by rmm
Just over a year after appointing a water project manager to work with the community and agencies to secure a better water supply, Kapiti District Councillors have chosen a river recharge project to boost water supply in Raumati, Paraparaumu and Waikanae.
The $23 million project requires fine-tuning, with particular attention on avoiding salination (saltwater intrusion) effects, among other technicalities. Despite this potential risk, the comparatively low cost and significantly better risk profile than other options investigated, ensured that support for recharging the river with bore water was unanimous, though not without reservation. A dam in the Maungakotukutuku Valley is a second choice for the future. A covenant on land around the dam site would have to be removed, with effects on the ecology and the social cost made evident, before this could be viewed as a viable option. 
Kapiti is a series of coastal towns, population near 50,000, that has been debating water issues since (at least) the 1990’s. The current Council was elected largely in response to a Greater Wellington Regional Council (GWRC) proposal to make universal water metering compulsory. Kapiti residents have been vocal, if divided in their views about water supply options. With the 2007 election, it became clear that the community also had strong views on water meters. Councillors Lyndy McIntyre, Peter Daniel, and new Mayor Jenny Rowan were elected to a fair extent, on the promise that water metering would not just be a fait accompli.  

So how has this Council made such progress, to the extent that they have identified an affordable option to better secure their water supply, after years of debate?  The answer may lie in the volunteer technical advisory group headed by former State Services Commissioner, Don Hunn. It may lie also in the steadfast committment made by Councillors to resource the issue. And it may lie in the recognition and implementation of a carefully drafted communications strategy that has underpinned the quantity and quality of engagement with everyone involved in the decision process. 

In addition, this project has had its champions, with the determination to achieve challenging goals. It has had people on board who not only dot i’s and cross t’s, but think systematically and recognise when outside the box thinking is required. I’ve seen Phil Stroud, Water Project Manager, in action, and I consider the results may not have been so timely without him. Not to mention the volunteer technical advisory group and good people from Beca, who evaluated a variety of options (initially 41, narrowed down to 4) and went out into the community to exchange information and gather feedback. Most importantly perhaps, this process was supported by an explicit committment from the public through the long term district plan (LTCCP) to leverage Council to provide the required resources to meet timelines and objectives around securing a better water supply.

Dripping tap

Stop the drip

It might be worth noting that prior to the latest LTCCP, there was $8 million or so ear-marked for water metering. In spending this, there was no guarantee that the required minimum 20 percent water savings would be made. Instead, a fraction of this amount has been spent locating significant leaks, promoting behaviourial change, and supporting people to make better use of water, with a 17 per cent reduction in water use achieved during the 2010 summer, compared to 2009.

Having followed the Kapiti water story since 2006 (I declare my interest and some bias, as I published my thesis on Kapiti water in 2009), I’ve come to a somewhat surprising conclusion about water meters, given my keen focus on water conservation and demand management. Water meters have their place as a measurement tool, a signal, in the same way you might check your electricity meter occasionally, particularly, when your bills are on the high side. But, in the case of this small community with scarce resources, there were limited funds. What then, would bring the greatest benefit to the community in regard to water? A set of solutions with a long term focus, or a short term fix?

Long term solutions involve changing behaviours and a committment to finding and fixing technical issues. Long term solutions mean engaging not only with residents, but also with the business and industrial users of water, helping them see how they can best contribute, to stop wasteful or polluting behaviours and make a positive difference. A question: if $8 million had been borrowed for installing meters in Kapiti households, what would be the result today? Would we have a better engaged community and be looking at a healthier and still  affordable water system for everyone by 2012?

It remains to be seen whether the recharge option will work to secure a better future for Kapiti water, though it must be more likely than not, given the depth of research into this project. There is a sea-change coming, with local body elections in October. Lyndy McIntyre has decided one term is enough, and Councillors Sandra Patton, Anne Molineux and Anne Chapman are also stepping down.

Paekakariki chair
It’s Paekakariki – relax

Chris Turver has put himself in the ring for the Mayoralty – I wonder how he might respond to this Council’s water supply decisions?


Posted in Environment, Kapiti, Uncategorized, water | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Quickfacts on Canterbury Water

Canterbury Region within New Zealand

Image via Wikipedia

With nearly three quarters (70%) of New Zealand’s irrigated land, Canterbury uses more than half (58%) of the country’s total allocated fresh water. Near two thirds (65%) of hydro-storage capacity is in Canterbury – generating around a quarter of the nation’s power through hydro-electricity. Source of stats: Environment Canterbury, Feb 2010 – Dr Bryan Jenkins.

The recent decision to impose a 14 month moratorium on consents to take, dam, divert or use water on the Hurunui River and tributaries from August 2, 2010, required approval from the Minister for the Environment, Nick Smith.

According to one government-appointed Commissioner, the moratorium will ensure an improved process for the management of water in the Hurunui catchment, with such a process, a first in New Zealand’s local authority history. Environment Canterbury commissioner, Peter Skelton argues (The Press, 23/7/2010) that:

The decision will also enhance kaitiakitanga, or guardianship over water – which is deeply embedded in the Canterbury Water Management Strategy – and recognises the importance of working with Ngai Tahu and other stakeholders to find creative and locally relevant solutions to water management issues. The Hurunui River is highly significant to Ngai Tahu and is one of seven major alpine braided rivers in Canterbury…While the farming demands on the Hurunui catchment water resources are high – with around 10,000 hectares of existing irrigation – there are also strong recreational, ecological, fishing, and cultural values for the river…

Four statutory processes are impacting water management in the Hurunui catchment. Commissioner, Peter Skelton, describes these:

  1. The proposed Natural Resources Regional Plan (submissions have been heard and decisions are expected later this year).
  2. Variation 8 to the proposed NRRP which sets environmental flows for the lower Hurunui River (submissions have been received but not yet heard).
  3. An application for a Water Conservation Order affecting the Upper Hurunui Catchment (currently in the statutory processes provided for in the Environment Canterbury Act).
  4. The Hurunui Water Project’s suite of consent applications for water to irrigate an additional 42,000 hectares that are currently being processed under the Resource Management Act towards a hearing…

Environment Canterbury commissioners have endorsed the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS), which, though not a statutory instrument, has some recognition under the Environment Canterbury Act. According to Peter Skelton, the CWMS: 

…advocates an integrated approach to water management across the region incorporating a vision and a set of principles against which all management decisions should be evaluated. 

The Hurunui water project proposes a fourfold increase to the amount of irrigated land in the consent area. 

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WSUD in HafenCity: ‘Future-Adaptive Urban Development’

A picture (or a series of pictures) can tell so much more than words.

Here is a link to a stunning example of water sensitive – urban – design: Worldchanging: Bright Green: HafenCity: A Case Study on Future-Adaptive Urban Development.

warehouses on water

Amanda Reed researched the HafenCity story and posted her ‘visual case study’ on 31 August 2010.

HafenCity, or Harbor City, sits on the river Elbe, in old Hamburg Harbour. This is a city area prone to flooding – and the key for this, one of the largest inner-city rebuilding projects in Europe – is that the project anticipates and to an extent, facilitates, flooding. This is a 157-hectare city district that will eventually see the creation of more than two million square meters of usable building space – or gross floor area (GFA) – and ‘versitile and attractive open spaces’.

So far, this WSUD project has been ten years in the making,  with a 2020, or even 2030, completion date. I encourage you to take a look at this case study, and think about how your communities could adapt some of the more simple and affordable approaches and lessons from it, if the more large scale engineering feats seem beyond reach of current resources. Seeing water sensitive approaches in action – seeing cities and towns grow more beautiful, more livable, more viable, more exciting – can be a source of inspiration for thinking and action for water sensitive change in our own communities.

With that in mind, here’s an extract from Amanda’s story that I’ve adapted: As Amanda says, she’s ‘not breaking any news here’. Yet she (and much of the rest of the world, I suspect) hadn’t heard of this development until this interview with Kristina Hill, describing three design strategies for responding to climate change – protect, renew and re-tool. Kristina contends that the ‘protect category of adaptive action is exemplified by the HafenCity development’

Hamburg…will allow flooding, but designed a major new part of the city to be resilient to high water, with water-proof parking garages, a network of emergency pedestrian walkways 20 feet (4.5 metres) above the street, and no residential units at ground level. Even the parks in this new Harbor City district are designed to withstand battering by waves and storm surge, either by floating as the waters rise, or by incorporating lots of hard surfaces that only need to be washed off when the waters recede.       Kristina Hill

Magellan Terraces, HafenCity. Image by ELBE&FLUT http://www.euf.de/ Source: HafenCity Hamburg GmbH

Amanda continues the story…

Intriguing! I immediately started scanning the net to learn more. Since HafenCity is such a large and long standing development project – it features building, bridge, and landscape designs from over 700 architects, including powerhouse names like Rem Koolhaas, Herzog & de Meuron, and Behnisch – it was easy to find well illustrated articles that discuss the development’s architectural projects and overall sustainability features, but coverage of its water adaptation design strategies, with illustrative images, was sparse. This post is an attempt to remedy that lack. By looking through the development’s official website, scouring Flickr, and exploring a selection of the architecture, landscape architecture and engineering firms’ websites, I think I’ve been able to pull together a serviceable attempt at a visual case study of HafenCity’s future-adaptive urban design strategies. Amanda – you’ve done much more than a ‘servicable’ job in pulling together the essential elements of this case-study!

For those of you interested in the detail, see what’s planned for the next stage of HafenCity’s development, and the necessary changes that have emerged, here: http://www.hafencity.com/en/revision-of-the-master-plan/a-revised-masteplan-for-hafencity-background-and-goals.html

See the timeline for the project here – starting December 1996 with Hamburg architect, Professor Volkwin Marg’s, initial study and presentation on redeveloping the inner city fringes of the port. Just five months later, the city’s first Mayor, Henning Voscherau, presented the ambitious HafenCity Vision to regain the waterfront for people.

And here’s a piece from HCH about the funding model for the project. HCH is tasked with providing integrated management for the city. On top of around EUR 800m expected to be generated from land sales, private investment in the project has reached EUR 5.5bn.  Retrieved 2 September 2010 from : http://www.hafencity.com/en/management/hafencity-hamburg-gmbh-a-one-stop-shop-for-urban-development.html

HafenCity Hamburg GmbH or HCH provides integrated management to match the complex requirements of HafenCity as a whole. HCH’s primary functions are to make available, develop, market and sell pieces of land. It is also responsible for communication, relations with the public, event management, publicity and promotion of the arts locally. Processing of zoning plans and construction documentation is concentrated in the Ministry of Urban Development and Environment (BSU), since HafenCity has been classed as a so-called priority area since 2006. For the public built environment, HCH takes on the role of developer itself: it develops infrastructure for the district (e.g. flood-secure roads and bridges) and lays out squares, parks, sport and play areas. HCH guarantees the quality of development in the district by taking on wider controlling functions, such as urban planning and architectural competitions, which it coordinates with the Ministry for Urban Development & Environment and the developers concerned. HCH is owned 100 per cent by the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg and is the trustee of its ‘city and port’ fund under public law: almost 100 per cent of land inthe HafenCity project area not yet sold is placed in this special fund. HCH finances its activities through the sale of such pieces of land. HafenCity-GmbH.
Residences overhang a promenade in Am Sandtorkai/Dalmannkai, HafenCity. Image from Flickr

Am I being overly simplistic when I imagine we could adopt elements of HafenCity’s design into Wellington’s or Porirua’s urban planning? The Megan Wraight designed multifaceted stormwater system that can be seen in action in the harbour area near Te Papa and Wellington’s Oriental Bay – is a starting point – with clever and visually appealing integration of urban form with function. Check out the Waitangi Park story and pictures here.

Waitangi Park Wellington Aotearoa NZ - Indigenous vegetation - Image via WA landscape architectsMore and more, in Aotearoa, we are doing water sensitive design as if we mean it. Great examples of ‘good design that works’ are out there – like HafenCity – like Doug Avery’s Bonaveree dryland farm (see earlier post) and Megan’s waterfront stormwater design – inspiring us to take the leap and do more to make our places more livable, affordable, more friendly and safe – securing our future.

Stories inspire designlinks to inspiring water stories are appreciated.

Related links

Julian Raxworthy – on Megan Wraight’s Taranaki Wharf design project: The project is an infrastructure scheme drawn from the wharf language but not pretentiously so. Great robust detail and a range of nice mini project inserts/theme gardens set into this infrastructure, such as a nice rock pool garden with indigenous plants and a place to get under the wharf and be amongst the structure. Its simply good landscape architecture I would say, with great judgment. – Julian Raxworthy, 3 April 2012

Grasbrook Hafencity via flckr T Mandt

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What is it to be Water Sensitive?

The goal of WSUD is to ensure water systems in and near urban environments are protected and repaired. 

Stormwater at Paekakariki

Stormwater at Paekakariki - image by RMM

Very simply, WSUD – water sensitive urban design – is about understanding sites – or whole communities – and their opportunities. This might be in the context of improving a declining catchment – restoring the health of an urban wetland or a stream – like the five and a half million dollar Waiwhetu stream clean-up in Lower Hutt. Or it might be about improving the resilience of a community – or both. Porirua has community rainwater tanks to capture fresh water for use in emergency responses – and is looking to have around 40 of them eventually – awesome. Urban rain tanks can be a great tool for teaching kids (and us too) about the water cycle, about growing plants, about what might be in our fresh water – and why it matters.  

Being water sensitive means choosing and positioning plants to soak up rainfall in suitable areas. It means reducing hard surfaces like impervious concrete, to minimise run-off, flooding and pollution. In more traditional systems, the water might be piped away to the sea. Some of NZ’s cities and towns have taken WSUD to heart, with rain tanks to flush public toilets or water municipal gardens, with strong policies on building and planting to sites and situation etc. We’re getting there…  

The starting point for WSUD is simple: the rain that falls on cities and towns is a precious resource, and is not simply a nuisance to be carried away as quickly as possible. With nearly half of NZ rates dollars going to water management (supply, stormwater and sewerage) – WSUD can save us money.  

more to come…

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Water Sensitive Design – the rural dimension

There is no ‘R’ in WSUD…and perhaps there should be. In light of NZ’s growth in dairy and wine-making, amongst other – potentially – thirsty industries with rural significance, should we not place as great an emphasis on water sensitive – rural – design, as our Australian neighbours are placing on urban?

I have been researching aspects of decision-making over the Hurunui water project in Northern Canterbury.

Crossing the Hurunui River

The Hurunui is Canterbury’s sixth largest river by volume. A trust was formed to look at options for water use in the district in 2002, with a proposal for two dams emerging. Dams feature largely on the NZ landscape. Our dependency on renewable hydro-electricity is one reason we dam our rivers, while rising investment in dairy, growing water demand for urban areas, and serving horticulture and sheep farming are others.

The Hurunui project could have been just another dam project given the go ahead, because it seemed logical to store water for later release to irrigate previously non-irrigated land. But, awareness of some of the more undesirable effects of dams perplexed first the Regional Councillors, and now it seems, the (government appointed) Commissioners. Potential adverse effects on the brown trout, on salmon growth, and unknown effects on the black-fronted tern and other threatened bird species, are specific concerns for the Hurunui. Side-effects of intensive irrigation are a significant part of the equation – in 2007 on the ‘dirty rivers’ league-table, a south branch of the Hurunui rated a poor 55, where 76 is worst. A critical question…will a dam (or other proposed water storage option) deliver more profit to the region than no dam?

So, we have a moratorium – no increased water take from the Hurunui and its tributaries until next October (2011). A good decision, but we have to make it work for all affected parties – and there are many. Somehow, the Commissioners must pull all the relevant information together in a coherent way and make it available to everyone. Then we must get working on thinking together about water sensitive – rural – design and how the Hurunui water project fits with this vision. Google the Starborough Flaxbourne soil conservation project for a brilliant and successful example of WS-R-D (WSURD?) – apologies for coining another acronym – there are already so many. Among a wealth of information about the Starborough Flaxbourne project on the net, technical aspects of dryland farming with lucern as an alternative to ryegrass and white clover, are presented in Seasonal priorities for successful grazing management of lucern by Prof. Derrick Moot, Lincoln University with Fraser and Doug Avery, Bonaveree Farm (Landcare, 2008): http://www.landcare.org.nz/user-content/917-chapter3__beyond-reasonable-drought.pdf

Scarborough Flaxbourne Soil Conservation Project

Dryland farm – Eastern Marlborough

Fourteen months may give everyone who counts in the Hurunui decision, a chance to share and review key understandings, to expose invalid assumptions, and to uncover the most significant constraints on both sides of the decision – to dam or not to dam, to irrigate or not to irrigate. Commissioners must implement a logical decision making process that takes account of diverse perspectives and key scientific understandings. If this cannot be done by October, the moratorium should extend, with the Commissioners held accountable.

Let’s carefully weigh up the risks and rewards of this twin dam project and analyse the reasons for it being proposed. Let’s see the bigger picture, drawing all the best from WSD. There is sense in capturing thousands of cubic meters of water when the rains fall in torrents, to later disperse in a targeted way when torrents reduce to insignificant showers. On the other hand, NZ can farm drylands, without intensive irrigation, and still make money. In Eastern Marlborough, Kevin Loe and Doug Avery (of the Starborough Flaxbourne project) are farming drylands in water sensitive fashion, producing luscious lambs and turning healthy profits, after adapting their farming practice to grow lucern, among other challenges and changes.


Resilient lucerne – after flood

The moratorium on water take is a road less travelled for New Zealanders. Let’s make best use of the breathing space and put ‘RURAL’ into WSUD.

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