Selwyn River is 'ground zero' for mismanagement of water says ECan councillor Lan Pham

The Selwyn River at Coes Ford has signs warning of the high risk due to toxic algae in the area.
DAVID WALKER/FAIRFAX NZ

The Selwyn River at Coes Ford has signs warning of the high risk due to toxic algae in the area.

The Selwyn River is "a really raw" example of our mismanagement of water, an Envrionment Canterbury (ECan) councillor told a public meeting.

However, a fellow councillor and Leeston farmer said the river had gone into similar decline in the past without the impact of intensive farming. 

Both were speaking to about 80 people at a meeting to discuss the "poisoning" and drying up of the Selwyn River at the Springston Community Hall on Thursday.

ECan councillor and ecologist Lan Pham says the Selwyn River is "ground zero" for water mismanagement.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

ECan councillor and ecologist Lan Pham says the Selwyn River is "ground zero" for water mismanagement.

In his opening address long time resident and organiser Mike Glover said it was an emotional time to see the river in "such a state".

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"Nitrates are . . . poisoning our ground water with nitrate levels rising in wells around the district."

ECan councillor and third-generation Leeston farmer John Sunckell.
JOSEPH JOHNSON/FAIRFAX NZ

ECan councillor and third-generation Leeston farmer John Sunckell.

Glover said he wanted to bring all concerned residents together to discuss the issue with a view to taking action.

"This meeting tonight is really, I feel, for our kids, and their kids, I'm here for my daughter and her future and I believe if we leave this mess for the next generation then we have fundamentally failed as parents and as a society."

Residents heard from a panel of six speakers including three ECan councillors before a question and answer session moderated by Lincoln University biologist Sue Jarvis.

The panel represented farmers, tourism operators, recreational river users and environmental groups. 

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ECan representative and third generation Leeston farmer John Sunckell defended the work of the territorial authority in protecting the river and said it had fallen into decline three times in the past.

"It has happened in the past without intensive agriculture or irrigation."

In her address freshwater ecologist and fellow ECan councillor Lan Pham said the Selwyn River (Waikerikeri) had become "ground zero" for the issue.

"It's a really raw, very obvious example of our abuse and carelessness in our mismanagement of water."

Fish and Game environmental adviser Scott Pearson told the audience the "current model of intensive agriculture is broken" and said "high input farmers" needed to reduce water use by 50 per cent by 2025.

During question time ECan came under fire for allowing intensive farming to continue to leach nitrates and over-use of the water.

One woman asked if ECan would ever have any "teeth" to enforce stricter rules for farmers.

Sunckell and fellow councillor Tom Lambie defended the current limits on water usage and monitoring of nitrates.

Pham said the best way to make a difference was for residents to vote for a change in government at this year's general election.

Christchurch resident Te Awhina Arahanga who attended the meeting grew up in Taumutu.

She said Lake Ellesmere had been turned in to a "big septic tank".

Arahanga wanted to see the water quality issue taken seriously and said it was as much a state of emergency as the Port Hills fires. 

"Shouldn't we be throwing everything we have at this?"

 - Stuff

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