Two important studies revealing the state of our freshwater came out last week, and the news is disappointing.
The first comes from NIWA, and updates water quality trends at the 77 National River Water Quality Network sites, which have been monitored over the last 20 years. The study confirmed that waterways flowing through farmland have higher levels of nitrogen and phosphorous than those that flow through unfarmed land. Wow, who’d have thunk it?
Of the 77 sites tested, nitrogen levels rose at 52 sites and fell at none. Phosphorous levels increased at 22 sites and fell at only nine. NIWA’s principal scientist Rob Davies-Colley puts it plainly: “It’s farm use of land that is driving our water quality in the wrong direction.”
The second report, authored by Dr Mike Joy from Massey University’s Institute of Natural Resources, shows that intensive farming is killing my dear friends, our freshwater fish species. The study reviewed 22,500 records of fish communities nationally and found they show significant decline over the past 40 years. Dr Joy says, “Our freshwater ecosystems are in dire straits and more than half of our native freshwater fish species are classed as being at risk of extinction.”
What a timely reminder of the urgent need for the government to set enforceable water quality standards, and embark on a large scale programme of fencing and riparian planting of waterways, a ‘Green New Deal’ project we estimate could create over 2000 new jobs.
Let’s hope the Government’s endorsement of a collaborative governance process for freshwater, the Land and Water Forum, will come up with strong recommendations for action on both these points. Our children have the right to swim in our rivers and lakes, and we owe it to the species and ecosystems that rely on clean water to survive and thrive.