Clean water up to urban areas too

The rural activities that can and do have impacts on water quality have received plenty of attention and associated response from our council. It is good to see that most people who live and work in our rural areas are getting on board with best practice, which will minimise the impact they have on our rivers, streams, lakes and groundwater.

But water quality is and will continue to be a major issue of concern to most Southlanders. To date there has been less emphasis on the impacts that urban and industrial activities have on water quality.

As Environment Southland moves forward with the business of implementing upcoming changes to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater (NPS- FW), we will have to consider the implications that these changes will have on our towns and urban areas, and the councils that represent those communities.

As highlighted on the front page of this newspaper two weeks ago, implementing agreed standards for freshwater quality has big implications for many urban sewerage and stormwater systems. If the agreed community standards and national water quality guidelines can't be met, the Government is indicating that a negotiated timeline will be set for improvements to occur.

In the meantime, there is a lot that each individual resident can do.

The days of 'flush and forget' are gone. What goes down your sink, drain, or toilet that storm and sewerage systems aren't designed to take?

Stopping pollution at the source is a cheap and effective way to reduce excess nutrients and nasties in our waterways. This was highlighted recently when Environment Southland Councillors, staff and representatives from Southland Fish and Game, DOC, DairyNZ, Federated Farmers, Southland Beef and Lamb, iwi representatives, and several Southland farmers toured the Waihopai catchment.

The Waihopai River runs through developed farmland, lifestyle blocks and Invercargill city, so water quality is suffering from the pressures that these different land uses impose.

At the bottom, the New River Estuary receives the water from the Waihopai and Oreti Rivers. Key issues for the Estuary are nitrate, phosphorus, sediment and bacterial contamination, which are leading to degradation of important ecosystems, wading habitats and shellfish gathering sites.

The NPS-FW is also about setting water quantity limits. Gore District Council has already been working on future-proofing their own town's reticulated supply by investigating additional supply options should cut-offs be imposed in dry weather.

Thinking proactively, should household water tanks be subsidised? After all, the water you wash your car with or water the garden with doesn't need to meet the expensive drinking water standards.

There are many activities that urban homeowners and business people can change to reduce their individual impact on water quality to match the efforts of what rural people are already doing.

Rurally, the focus has been on preparing for wintering, investigating riparian planting and fencing, and learning more about nutrient budgets and how they can improve farm production while protecting the environment. For the urban community, there are improvements to be made in activities that protect the stormwater system (which discharges directly into our rivers and streams), checking and clearing drains, disposing of rubbish, green waste and wastewater appropriately. And remember, when you wash your car, do it on the grass or gravel.

Phases of implementing the NPS-FW will see communities going beyond best practice solutions and deciding on all the values for freshwater and subsequent water quality and quantity limits. The involvement of our fellow Southland Councils will be integral to this process, so they can give a voice to the communities they represent and inform the decision making about potentially costly infrastructure upgrades.

I'm looking forward to the holiday period, with plenty of daylight to get out biking. And, weather permitting I'm hoping to do some swimming as well.

For any of us going swimming over the summer, it's a good idea to check the Environment Southland website for the latest recreational water quality results. And it pays not to swim or gather shellfish for 2-3 days after heavy rainfall when water quality is likely to be at its poorest. Swimming when the water is discoloured might make you a bit crook but it won't kill you. Not wearing a life jacket could.

I know from personal experience that the most important thing to remember when out on the water is to always wear your lifejacket.

It's the rule in Southland to do so. What better gifts for under the tree than the right-sized lifejacket for each member of the family.

Here's a tip: get the new MarineMate app before you head out on the boat this summer. It can help you with all your boating questions; from where the boat ramps are, to the rules for our region.

From all of us at Environment Southland, we hope you have a safe and happy holiday period.

» Ali Timms is the chairman of Environment Southland.

The Southland Times