groundwater aquifer

Groundwater: The mysterious life of underground water

On Sunday, we launched my Members’ Bill to protect underground water and aquifers. It’s called the Resource Management (Clean Groundwater) Amendment Bill.

Catchy title. What does it do?

It changes parts of the Resource Management Act, the legislation that protects our environment so that groundwater is kept safe from contamination and pollution.

What? You mean there’s water under the ground?

Yep. We call underground rivers and lakes ‘aquifers’. They make up 95% of the freshwater on the planet; in New Zealand a quarter of our water is found in aquifers. The water in them we call ‘groundwater’, as opposed to in rivers and streams which are ‘surface water’. Rivers are fed by rain and aquifers, aquifers are fed by rivers and rain in their turn. They are both shallow and deep (I can relate to that!) and they supply us with the freshest of our water, unless we pollute them.

Why should we give a toss about aquifers?

Nearly half of New Zealand’s drinking water comes from aquifers.

In Canterbury, aquifers are heavily exploited for irrigation where there is a serious risk nitrate pollution for people who live near dairy farms and rely on bores from aquifers. Christchurch City relies on aquifer drinking water and many smaller communities and households take water from aquifers via bores.

There are also more than 70 water bottling companies across the country sucking up aquifer water and selling it without paying for it. Although the amount of water they are taking is small relative to the amount farmers take for irrigation, people on water restrictions or with polluted bores are rightly outraged by this industry’s free ride.

What’s the Green Party going to do about it?

You can read our full Q+A on the Bill but put simply: aquifers and groundwater aren’t currently seen as nationally significant or protected by the RMA. We’ll change that. We also want to put a hold on new bottled water consents until water ownership and sustainability is sorted out, so we created this Members’ Bill.

Why create a Members’ Bill to protect aquifers? How can that help?

One reason I drafted this Bill was to support the actions of Ngāti Kahungunu who took the Hawkes Bay Regional Council to court to protect the aquifer in their rohe from over-exploitation and contamination. I want it to be easier for tangata whenua water champions and groups like Fish and Game to advocate for the protection of aquifers. The Bill does not address all the numerous water issues we face right now from unswimmable rivers to the recognition of Te Tiriti rights of Māori in relation to freshwater, from the top of the sky to the centre of the earth. But it’s another lever in the tool box for our water champions, until we have a Government that understands that water is life!