Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Farmers are ruining Canterbury's rivers

Its summer, so people naturally want to go for a swim. But in South Canterbury, you can't, because the rivers are full of toxic goo:

As of Monday, the Waihi River at Wilson Street footbridge, Geraldine, the Waihao River at Bradshaws Bridge, and three spots on the Opihi River - at State Highway 1, Waipopo Huts and Salesyard Bridge, all had warnings for toxic algae.

Some of these warnings, such as the Opihi River at State Highway 1, have been in place since the end of November, while the most recent - at Waihi River - was put in place on January 15.

The warnings, issued by Community and Public Health, say humans and animals, particularly dogs, should avoid these areas until the health warning has been lifted.

[Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Alistair] Humphrey said exposure to the algal mats may cause skin rashes, nausea, stomach cramps, tingling and numbness around the mouth and fingertips.

This problem has been getting worse over the years, and is expected to deteriorate further. As for the causes, they boil down to climate change - higher temperatures mean warmer rivers means more algae; nutrient loading - more shit means more food for algae; and increased water extraction - meaning no high flows to flush the toxic crap away. These three things have a common cause: farmers. They suck the rivers dry, while their cows fill them with shit and burp out climate-destroying methane. And together, these things are destroying our rivers - and the planet.

As for how to fix it, we need to regulate the destructive impacts of farming down - which in turn means cutting off their irrigation water so the rivers can flow again, imposing stocking limits and strict controls to prevent them from shitting everywhere, and making them pay the full cost of their greenhouse gas emissions to provide an incentive for reductions. Farmers will kick and scream over that. But their desire to make money should not outweigh the rest of the country's need for safe water and a safe climate.