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Last week, the Ministry for the Environment released its Our Freshwater 2020 report, detailing the state of Aotearoa’s lakes, rivers and freshwater. And it’s not good.
The report shows clearly that our freshwater is in crisis. Not only does this mean we can’t swim in many of our rivers, it indicates that most of the critters that live in our rivers and lakes are in strife, and that dirty water poses a huge risk to human health.
Right now, with the Covid-19 pandemic gripping the world, we need to protect the things that keep us well – like our drinking water.
Let’s take a closer look at some of the key issues the report raised.
- Nitrogen pollution is getting worse in 41% of our rivers
A lot of this nitrogen run-off comes from industrial dairy farms, from urine patches and the mass application of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser. When it seeps into our waterways, the nitrogen causes algal blooms that can choke out other beneficial plants and native fish. It provides the perfect storm for sludgy, slimy rivers.
- Almost half our lakes are sick
The report says that “46 percent of lakes larger than 1 hectare (1,758 lakes) are in poor or very poor ecological health,” meaning they’re unable to support the ecosystems that rely on them. You only have to look at places like Lake Ferry in the Wairarapa, or Lake Ellerslie in Canterbury to see what this looks like. Scummy, lurid green water that literally stinks. Rivers and streams often flow into lakes, making them a good indicator of the health of our waterways.
- Three quarters of NZ’s freshwater fish species are at risk
The report shows 76% of freshwater fish species are at risk of extinction. It’s a precarious situation for the critters that keep our waterways thriving, and these fish are acting as ‘canaries in the coal mine’. If they’re sick, we’re likely to get sick, too.
With half of New Zealand’s rivers sitting in farming areas (and only 1% in urban areas), and massive intensification of dairying over the last few decades, there’s no disputing that Aotearoa’s freshwater crisis is directly impacted by industrial dairy farming. From too many cows churning up the soil, causing erosion on riverbanks and sediment in the water, to nitrogen and germs seeping into our waterways, intensive dairying is making our rivers sick.
But we know there’s a better way, with fewer cows, more plant-based food and no synthetic nitrogen fertiliser. Aotearoa’s farmers can make the switch to regenerative agriculture that works with natural cycles, not against them. As the Government plans what to put money into to boost the economy post-Covid, there’s a huge opportunity to shift New Zealand to regenerative agriculture.
We’re consulting with leading regenerative farmers and organisations, and we want to hear your thoughts too. What should the government put money towards to help regenerative farming thrive in NZ? Join the conversation here.