Local Government Magazine
3 Waters

NZ’s waterways and the natural environment

NZ’s water & environment - LG Dec 2016

By Vijesh Chandra, trustee National Wetland Trust of NZ, board member Water New Zealand

I encourage water industry leaders to realise the economic value of our country’s waterways and natural environment. Regardless of the final outcome of the government inquiry, the Havelock North water crisis serves as a stark reminder of the continued degradation of our waterways and natural environment, and a threat to the value of our clean green 100% pure image.

New Zealand’s annual tourism export earnings have grown at a phenomenal rate since 2013. They are now on a par with dairy industry export revenue, demonstrating linkage of potential economic benefits to investment in enhancing and restoring our waterways and natural environment.

Any adverse effects of increased tourist numbers can be mitigated by win-win solutions. The creation of more clean and pure tourist destinations in the regions can distribute the tourist loading whilst instigating much-needed regional economic growth.

Both the Sea Change – Tai Timu Tai Pari Plan and the Waikato Healthy Rivers Wai Ora project demonstrate a strong desire to prevent further deterioration of waterways and the natural environment but concede that collaboration and ownership of issues are major obstacles.

Still, we should not underestimate the power of communities and of the next generation to lead environmental initiatives. There are many good examples of individual landowners, volunteer groups, trusts, concerned organisations and communities taking ownership, collaborating and making a real difference.

The Whaingaroa Harbour Care story is an award-winning, inspiring example of win-win. A rural community led by Fred Lichtwark took up the challenge of improving water quality in local streams. Together they installed over 600 kilometres of fencing and planted more than 1.2 million plants. This led to a reversal of catchment degradation after only 15 years; dramatic improvements in the harbour; and many benefits to farmers.

So, how can we replicate such community projects?

The water industry is failing to make the contaminant transport mechanism transparent to all stakeholders.

Information such as LiDAR, soil type, property parcels, waterway flow paths, groundwater systems, stock intensities and land-use type is readily available. Web-based technology is relatively cheap to set up and user-friendly.

Access to this information would allow multiple stakeholders to do several things. They will understand how contaminants are transported; see how they are contributing to the problem; identify other stakeholders; identify the many options available to mitigate the problems and collaborate on integrated win-win solutions.

A web-based interactive contaminant transport mechanism platform can provide many benefits:

  • A more detailed understanding of how contaminants from land use are transported from the source point to streams, river systems and harbours;
  • Establishes every industry / landowner’s role and contribution to contaminant generation and transportation, and identifies stakeholder groups;
  • Enables prioritisation of the issues based on integrated information;
  • Enables development of potential integrated solutions (such as new constructed wetlands or land exchange for town plan change allowances) to manage contaminants and mitigate effects on the environment;
  • Promotes ownership and enables effective collaboration on potential solutions within each stakeholder group;
  • Allows decision-making on solutions so that benefits can be gained in the short term;
  • Instigates the establishment of volunteer schemes, community groups, trusts or sponsorships to target specific projects;
  • Allows learnings to be shared and encourages ownership and participation; and
  • Provides a good starting point for the next generation of leaders who are digital-savvy and are generally much more concerned about the state of our country’s environment.

This article was first published in the December 2016 issue of NZ Local Government Magazine.

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