Russel Norman

Dams will damn our rivers

by Russel Norman

Fed Farmers have welcomed National’s $400 million water storage and irrigation investment announced yesterday.

Of course Fed Farmers would. Damming rivers to store water for irrigation means farmers can convert more land to dairying, which is highly profitable at the moment.

But Fed Farmers pretend that damming rivers to store water for irrigation won’t hurt the environment.

This is wishful thinking. Nearly every study on water quality shows that land use intensification leads to water pollution.

Fed Farmers say that no water storage or irrigation project will go ahead unless it stacks up environmentally, and they go on to give the example of the Opuha Dam as a project with increased economic performance and environmental benefits. However, in January, the principle surface water quality officer at Environment Canterbury linked the Opuha Dam to an increase in toxic algae blooms in the Opihi River.

National and Fed Farmers want to pretend we can have more cows and cleaner rivers. Unfortunately science shows we can’t.

If they have to resort to citing a river with toxic algal blooms as an example of environmental benefit, then we are in trouble.

Indeed, science shows we have a freshwater crisis on our hands. More than one half of our monitored rivers are unsafe for swimming, one third-of our lakes are unhealthy, and two-thirds of our native freshwater fish are at risk or threatened with extinction.

But there is hope: we have a plan to make our rivers and lakes clean enough to swim in again. We will introduce standards for clean water that deal with the causes of pollution, as well as a charge for irrigation water that will fund water clean-up initiatives.

Published in Environment & Resource Management by Russel Norman on Thu, November 10th, 2011   

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