Algae in rivers stumps experts

ALEXIA JOHNSTON
Last updated 05:00 26/05/2014
water forum
ALEXIA JOHNSTON/ Fairfax NZ

WATER MATTERS: Jane Demeter moderates a Water Matters Forum, attended by a panel of experts, from left, Willy Leferink, Dr Alistair Humphrey, Dr Mike Joy, John Donkers, and Geoff Simmons.

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A young boy challenged a panel of experts at a packed Water Matters Forum held in Geraldine yesterday.

During the public event, at the Geraldine Cinema, the boy stood and challenged the panel about what he termed Geraldine's polluted rivers.

He asked what was being done to stop algae forming in the rivers, adding that putting up a warning sign was not solving the problem.

While the panel could not provide a solution, it was noted that it was a good point. Algae is potentially toxic and can be harmful to people and animals.

"We need to send a really strong message to the Government to make sure our waterways are clear . . . so this little fella can go [water] bombing in the summer," panel member Geoff Simmons said.

Scientist and freshwater ecologist Dr Mike Joy was also on the panel, along with Federated Farmers dairy chairman Willy Leferink, Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair Humphrey and Irrigation NZ chairman John Donkers.

Debate covered a range of areas affected by water including health and the environment.

Dr Diana Scott questioned the quality of Geraldine's drinking water following high rates of bowel cancer and stomach infections. She was not blaming the town's water supply, simply trying to "put the dots together".

A member of the public claimed she had been told by the Timaru District Council there had been no testing for 20 years of the Geraldine water supply for arsenic or pesticides.

Dr Humphrey said rural people suffer more from enteric (gastrointestinal) disease, mainly because of their work with animals.

He said chlorine was one way of killing some bacteria.

"In the earthquakes we had to chlorinate water to keep our [water] supply safe."

The affect dairying has on the environment was discussed at length.

One dairy farmer said she would hate that the issue was a case of "you guys against us".

"We have an opportunity in New Zealand to get this right, even though at times it is difficult."

The need for technology was also highlighted, so dairy farmers could gauge the amount of nitrates they put into the environment.

"I don't think we have an answer for that because there's so many pathways for those nitrates to leave your farm," Joy said.

The Water Matters Forum was a popular event, with people braving cold wet weather to attend.

The crowd filled the bottom floor of the cinema, with some also contributing to the debate from the top floor.

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- The Timaru Herald

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