Friday, June 15, 2012

Wellington's water

The Greater Wellington Regional Council has released its State of the environment reports. Not all of them are online yet, but they paint a dismal picture of degraded water, polluted rivers, and toxic lakes:

Overuse, pollution and "degradation" of Wellington's water has been exposed in new research evaluating the region's natural resources.

Greater Wellington regional council has documented the health of the region's air, land, freshwater and coastal resources in a series of reports published today.

They identify serious concerns with the quality of waterways and show many streams and aquifers are heavily depleted from the upsurge in dairying.


Urban streams and rural waterways in intensive farming areas are badly degraded, with high levels of nutrients and faecal bacteria.

Streams in Kapiti, Porirua, Waiwhetu, Upper Hutt, Carterton and Masterton are among the worst affected.

Average levels of nitrogen and phosphorus have increased on dairy pasture since the intensification of Wairarapa dairying, threatening waterways.

There are other problems: poor quality sewage systems contaminating beaches, and residual industrial pollution and stormwater runoff polluting urban streams and Wellington harbour. But the core problem for most waterways is dairy farming. The drive to irrigate more land for cows has drained the rivers, refilling them with piss and shit. As for the lakes, the region's three largest lakes - Lakes Wairarapa, Onoke and Waitawa - are all highly degraded, which is attributed to "the large component of agricultural land use in their catchments" and intensive farming of the lake margins.

These problems can be solved, but it requires local authorities to limit irrigation and stock numbers and crack down on dirty farming practices. And that it turn requires political will and the support (or punishment, depending) of voters. The question is whether GWRC can do that, or whether they will continue letting Wellington's waterways degrade.