Water resources more important than dollars

RACHEL STEWART
Last updated 07:50 13/08/2012
oliver stand
Former All Blacks skipper Anton Oliver is now leading a campaign to keep rivers all green and clean.

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OPINION: What do Richie McCaw and Anton Oliver have in common, besides the All Black captaincy and being South Islanders by birth? Not very much, it turns out, but we'll get to that in a moment.

First, let's talk water. It is a subject on the lips of many. Every New Zealander has a huge stake in its future, whether it relates to ownership, availability or quality.

We're all quickly learning that it's something that can no longer be taken for granted. The pressures on water have become too large and unrelenting and involve industry trying to extract financial gain from it one way or another. The fight is definitely on.

The team in white is the dairy industry - prime polluter No 1. "Dirty dairying" is now a household term, and its implications are evident in declining water quality. Yet cow numbers march incessantly on, keeping Fonterra's insatiable growth projections moving forward and farmers on the never- ending treadmill of intensification.

The team in green are the various environmental groups and, for this particular match, they are led by Fish & Game. It has made more headway on water issues than any other "green" group in the land - a happy by- product of looking after its hunting and fishing stakeholders well.

Last week Fish & Game spearheaded a new campaign highlighting awareness of Water Conservation Orders (WCOs) which, despite having been in existence for some time, are not generally well understood.

Essentially, they give specific waterways the highest level of protection available - much like a national park does on land.

There are currently only 15 protected water bodies in New Zealand. Fish & Game instigated 12 of those, which its members paid for through their hunting and angling licence fees.

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright also recently called for broader protection of wild and scenic rivers. It is yet to be seen whether the Government will act on her recommendation.

New Zealand needs more than 15 protected waterways, not least because WCOs bring with them defined limits on water abstraction. This means that any companies pursuing more water than the limits allow for know the perimeters before embarking down the litigation track.

Data suggests that setting limits on all waterways would most certainly reduce the legal wrangling polluters and abstracters will be willing to engage in. From the outset they clearly see the financial risks and benefits of doing so.

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A public awareness push is imperative because attempts are already under way by the extractive industries to undermine the status of WCOs. Given our current Government's track record on matters economic and democratic, this has to be treated as a real threat.

Unconvinced? Think Environment Canterbury's councillor sackings due, according to Nick Smith, to their "water management style". The asset sales programme, and its associated water resources, is another example of essentially selling the car without the ownership papers. Water is fast becoming the new oil, such is its financial value to agriculture.

Conversely cow shit doesn't offer many benefits to water.

Fish & Game's campaign to emphasise WCOs is fronted by ex- All Black Anton Oliver. He has completed a masters degree in environmental policy from Oxford University, and has been an assertive critic of what he sees as mismanagement of New Zealand's freshwater resource.

"Living in the UK I see the promotions aimed at luring tourists to New Zealand - the land of crystal-clear waterways. In my opinion there is a large and growing discrepancy between the marketing 'clean green' rhetoric and the reality of what's actually happening on the ground.

"My concern is that we are fooling ourselves if we think New Zealand's natural world is pristine and untouched - it's a concept that is difficult for us to accept, because it challenges a part of our national identity."

He's right. Kiwis seem to have difficulty grasping the fact that not all is well in our rivers, lakes and streams. It's like an admission would be tantamount to a loss of environmental innocence and we're "100 per cent Pure", right?

Tellingly, while Oliver is putting his beliefs into action as a WCO ambassador the current All Black captain is fronting as Fonterra's ambassador. New Zealand's largest company is using him for the next three years to "build pride" among Kiwis in the Fonterra brand. Marketing experts estimate he is earning a fee of somewhere in the vicinity of $300,000 annually for doing so.

In other words, McCaw is lending - sorry, selling - his over- exposed face to this country's largest industry abstracter and polluter of freshwater. It is nothing more than unthinking, opportunistic and greedy.

Anton Oliver is doing the exact opposite. He is speaking out about water quality degradation in his homeland by putting his money where his mouth is - money not made by fronting the WCO campaign.

And therein lies the stark difference between these two men, and also between those in society who revere the economy like a god and others calling for more principled handling of our natural resources.

Some things - and clean, fresh water is one of them - are rightly bigger than the bucks.

- Taranaki Daily News

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