On the River Patrol in Te Tai Tokerau

Last Wednesday, I went on a tour of some of Northland’s rivers with  Millan Ruka from Environmental River Patrol as he monitored water quality throughout Te Tai Tokerau. The dry conditions meant we couldn’t use the boat but we visited a lot of waterways, and it was an amazing drive through beautiful rural countryside. What we saw was sobering and educational. We started at Poriti, the sacred springs where tangata whenua including Millan have fought for their water rights. The Waitangi Tribunal supported the case taken by tangata whenua and the NZ Maori Council that Maori do have proprietary rights over water in their rohe. However, the battles continue.

It was great to see the areas along the Wairua and Mangakahia Rivers where a combination of encouragement, naming and shaming has led to fencing and planting to keep stock out of the rivers. Nevertheless it should not be up to champions like Millan and the local hapu to apply pressure. The Regional Council and Fonterra need to make sure there are consequences for farmers who don’t manage their cows’ effluent ponds appropriately, discharge effluent into our waterways, or let stock graze near or in waterways. The latest report on regional growth issues in Te Tai Tokerau states that 20% of farms are still doing these things, and are not compliant with  water pollution management practices. Then they advocate for more cows on farms.

Even with fences or hot wires that some farmers have used to mitigate effluent getting into our water, the water quality in some of the rivers is very poor, and seemed thick with a slimy unnatural algae. Some of the effluent ponds looked pretty rough and Millan told me that farms can be expanded but with no requirement for additional ponds.

However it was inspiring to visit the power station on the Wairua River where the tangata whenua and Northpower work together to save the elvers (junior eels) from getting crushed in the station and are helping to rebuild the species. These tiny tenacious creatures face giant modifications of their environment, but thanks to the kaitiaki and Bill at the power station, they have a chance.

The last place we visited was the Hikurangi swamp, which is 80kms of canals and dairy farms. Some of it is well managed and some of it creating a risk to the Kaipara Harbour. Be it contamination from pathogens like e. coli, sediment,  or nutrients like nitrogen, it all affects the water downstream and reflects a heavily modified environment where water quality has not been prioritised. All the voluntary accords and rhetoric in the world won’t fix it, but Millan Ruka has made a difference with his camera and his commitment and it’s time everyone else caught up. The Green goal of swimmable rivers is achievable if we all put water quality first.



3 Comments Posted

  1. Not meaning to be hard on you Catherine. I reckon you are doing a very good job for us all. The stories are definitely important. I just think we have to work a lot harder at connecting the dots for the general public, who by-and-large have accepted the narrative of the mid-80’s neo-liberal global market shift without thinking it through or even understanding the implications.

    It is a tough sell though, and when facing the reality of the mess that resulted it might be easy to forget the root cause of the mess. We have to try not to forget. To bring that connection out into the light. Otherwise it can never be addressed by the general public and we will as a result, never be able to stop the next mess from happening.

    This is in part why the Greens can never actually find common ground with National. There is no means of embracing their vision of growth as a sacrament and the extractive sector (including farming) as the source of all growth, and managing the environment in a sustainable manner. The two concepts are diametrically opposed. This is missed by all manner of pundit, none of whom appear to be worthy of the title.

    It is forgivable to occasionally forget… but it is important to mostly remember. The press has to discover and the public has to learn that there is an economics lecture associated with almost all Green environmental stories. 🙂

  2. I totally agree that the dirty rivers are a symptom of a failing system of economic mismanagement, I understand the critique but also know that telling stories of people and places on the ground are also important too. Comments are very welcome.

  3. This is the closest available.

    I want to compliment the management on its new, completely eviscerated and sterilized blog format. No arguments, no life, no place for comments not filtered through the perceptions of the caucus and no ability to refresh old topics with new comments.

    The blog has become press releases from the caucus.

    There is no link of any sort to climate change news on the front page. If this is the future of the Greens it is a dead end. The Labour party has a link to energy imbalance on ITS front page. http://4hiroshimas.com/ We might do better to link to the merchants of doubt site but there should be SOMETHING. Who is in charge of this???


    To address the issues raised here, the burden our extraction based economy places on our environment, including but not limited to, our rivers, is not even currently sustainable. We’ve overshot, which is why the rivers and fresh water is in the sorry state it has reached.

    This is an ECONOMIC problem. The economy of the entire nation is based on a lie about what “comparative advantage” means. This is not something that happens if we all “put water quality first”. We cannot fight the economy… it is the tool by which the society determines how the environment gets used.

    To correct the problems we see (things like water quality) we have to correct the economic distortions, and distortions of perception, that govern the nation. This is also the problem for climate change. Sustainability does not favor an “extractive” economy in a globalized trade environment. The combination of sustainable, extractive and global, is an oxymoron.

    So to proceed, we have to connect the dots for the public. Not just point at the rivers, but connect the state of the rivers to the economic error that eviscerates NZ firms that make things we use, for us, here.

    If you, reading this, have not made that connection, you don’t really understand how distorted the economic basis of NZ has become. Key is successful… at turning this into a third world nation. We however, must be prepared to fix his mistake, and that means we must educate. Don’t just point at a dirty river, connect it to the neo-liberal economic distortion that has both major parties in thrall.

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