[Editor: After Rata Ingram's article "Our river - A moving rubbish dump", we put some hard questions to Joseph Burston, the Green Party's candidate for Port Hills. His reply arrived during a televised Leaders' Debate no less, so full marks for effort! But are Joseph's replies good? You be the judge!]
Why is the water quality of our Heathcote River so bad? Rata identifies silting and storm water runoff. Is she right, and if so, what specific activities are making this happen?
The Heathcote/Opawaho catchment covers an area of approximately 100 km2 with about 50 % of this being developed land; most of this is residential with some industrial. Historically, industrial discharges from the Woolston area polluted the river. These discharges have been significantly reduced. Today a major culprit is stormwater runoff, as Rata correctly identifies.
Fish need clean riverbed gravels to spawn and aquatic invertebrates need them as habitat (using small spaces between the stones). Smothering riverbed gravels with a layer of silt affects river health. Reducing sediment loadings requires better controls on earthworks on the Port Hills and Environment Canterbury has produced guidelines to help contractors do this.
More riparian planting would also help. Greater use of buses and bikes and walking would also help reduce the pollution load from vehicle emissions which are carried off roads and into the river after rain.
High concentrations of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus can increase weed and algal growth. Nitrate nitrogen concentrations have declined at some sites in the Heathcote catchment which is good news but levels are still above healthy levels. Careful fertiliser use on farmland in the catchment can help reduce nutrient loadings.
The Heathcote/Opawaho is spring fed. Heavy groundwater abstraction for irrigation has reduced the volume of water in the upper river. Environment Canterbury needs to wind back some of these takes to enhance the river’s source.
In relation to the problems you and Rata identified in question 1, what specific policies do you think will actually make a visible difference to our river? Rata wouldn’t want to hear anything vague or abstract, so some details on workable ideas would be great!
The draft National Policy Statement on Freshwater released by Government is a start but does not go far enough in controlling pollution from intensive farming and in rural catchments. Much stronger directives and targets for improving the flows and health of lowland waterways including the Heathcote are needed. Government has invested $80 million in cleaning up Lake Taupo. Similar funding is needed to change land uses affecting Canterbury’s waterways including Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere and lowland streams such as the Heathcote.
Joseph adds these specific points from the Green Party's Water Quality policy:
Water quality is affected by pollution and contamination from intensive farming operations and commercial operations, as well as wastewater treatment and excessive extraction. Throughout the country there are problems with the monitoring and enforcement of resource consents relating to wastewater and effluent disposal. The Green Party will:
- Ensure regional councils carry out requirements under the RMA to monitor the impacts of, and enforce resource consent conditions for, new developments and other activities with potential effects on water quality and aquatic ecosystems.
- Develop a National Policy Statement on water under the RMA and set a National Environmental Standard with targets and time frames for water quality.
- Encourage councils to require land use resource consents for conversion to dairying or intensification of land use, and to set limits on nitrogen and phosphate run-off.
- Establish a contestable dedicated fund to support sustainable land management practices on farms such as nutrient budgeting, planting of riparian margins, planting of headwaters in flood prone catchments, conversion to woodlots for sustainable management, as well as existing programmes such as Project Green. This will be funded by a levy on nitrogen and phosphate fertilisers and dollar for dollar matched funding by government.
- Amend Section 107 of the RMA so that 'emergency' discharges into waterways only last until a clean and safe alternative is put into place so that the loophole that allows such waterway discharges to last 40 years is addressed.
- Encourage the disposal of waste water to land where slope, soil type, and other conditions are appropriate, in preference to disposal to water.
- Encourage local authorities to engage in collaborative investigation with local groups on developing a sustainable strategy to deal with biosolids.
- Require local authorities to implement a programme to keep storm water and wastewater separate.
- Encourage councils to develop initiatives for safe disposal of liquid waste that might otherwise pollute waterways via storm water drains (e.g. provide liquid waste disposal points for such items as oil or paint).
- Reduce the impact of roading and transport on water quality by:
- Establishing silt traps and appropriate filtration for water run off along state highways and major roadways.
- Roadside planting in urban areas to absorb contaminants while taking into consideration road user and general safety.
- Require all land subdivision and road building works to include surface water management and the control of sediment run-off and erosion into local water waterways
- Support initiatives to manage exotic waterfowl populations to decrease water pollution.
- Establish guidelines for industry on-site treatment of wastewater and heightened standards for trade waste that is deposited in ordinary sewers.
The Christchurch City Council and Environment Canterbury have recently signed a Surface Water Protocol Implementation Agreement. Essentially it aims to manage storm water on a catchment-wide basis, and is focused on protecting waterways as development occurs, enabling early intervention if water quality deteriorates, and how they will work together to deal with pollution. Do you think this answers the problem? What can the Green Party add to this idea?
Better co-operation between the City Council and Environment Canterbury is part of solving the problem. The City Council needs to be more careful about where it allows subdivision and what controls are put on earthworks. Increased public awareness such as the current series of articles in The Press can ensure people know to report silt laden stormwater discharges to ECan’s Pollution Hotline ph 0800 324 636 . Householders need to know not to dispose of paints or other chemicals into stormwater drains.
Rata’s advice is for us to get in the river, and pick up other people’s rubbish. Have you been involved anywhere in this type of activity? If so, where was it and did you make a difference? Would you be prepared to help out at one of our working bees?!
Rubbish in the river looks unattractive and suggests people don’t care about the river. Clean up days involve the community and are a chance for people to learn more about the river. Please let me know the dates of your next clean up days. If I am available I would be happy to join you.