Editorial: Cleaning up the Avon River for future generations should be top priority

A girls rowing team practises on the Avon River at Kerrs Reach, with debris floating near the river bank. The Avon ...
KIRK HARGREAVES

A girls rowing team practises on the Avon River at Kerrs Reach, with debris floating near the river bank. The Avon desperately needs cleaning up.

EDITORIAL: Christchurch's most precious natural asset is crying out for attention. The Avon River, in the heart of our city, is in a disgusting state?

It has been in a poor state for many decades, and millions of litres of wastewater dripping, trickling and streaming into the Avon since the earthquakes further degraded the waterway to the point it is not far short of what Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey calls an "open sewer".

The great irony is that the Avon, as a geographic, historic and cultural feature, lies at the heart of plans to redevelop and refresh the central city in the wake of the earthquakes.,Yet the actual health of the river has barely been taken into consideration. It is like the absence of the guest of honour at their surprise party has not even been noticed.

That irony has not passed the Avon-Otakaro Network by. Co-chairman Evan Smith this week highlighted the problem and said the city could start improving the river's quality by redirecting a small proportion of the $114 million budgeted for the Avon River Precinct. Christchurch City councillor Glenn Livingstone is also fuming about the river's "disgraceful condition".

The Avon is as quintessentially Christchurch as the damaged Christ Church Cathedral, although many more thousands of words have been spoken about the need to deal with that then there have been about our well-known river.

Steps to improve the quality of the Avon have to be taken now. If they are, there is a good chance that in the years ahead the river will start to be less of a health hazard. One day it might even be safe to swim in again.

Whichever data you focus on, the Avon is in a bad way. It is one of New Zealand's most polluted rivers and when it comes to contamination through levels of E coli, nitrogen and dissolved reactive phosphorus it is in the top 25 per cent of the country's dirty rivers.

Environment Canterbury has classified the Avon's condition as "very poor" each year since 2010. Residents are frequently warned not to swim or go whitebaiting in it.

Christchurch Central Development Unit director Baden Ewart says the health of the Avon is a high priority and work has already been carried out to revitalise the river. That includes adding 10,000 plants along its banks, removing from the river bed 10,000 tonnes of silt caused by quake liquefaction, and rescuing about 1500 fish.

Humphrey is optimistic things can be turned around and says it is up to individuals and communities, and not just local government, to achieve that.

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So what can we do to make a difference? We can stop pouring paint, turpentine, oil and diesel down the drains hoping they will just go away. We can stop washing our cars with chemicals that create foam which washes into and clogs up the stormwater system. We can stop feeding ducks and other water birds by throwing food into the river or spraying cooking oil into the water to improve whitebaiting success.

It will not be an easy fix. It will take time and means changes in the way we think about our use of freshwater and the minimisation of runoff.

But it can be done. We have a chance to hand over to the next generation a sparkling, clean Avon.

 - Stuff

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