Water quality up for discussion at Winter Lecture Series

Questions about water and its quality will be explored on August 12 at “Do We Need To Worry About Our Water?” a panel discussion to be conducted as part of the University of Waikato Winter Lecture Series at Hamilton City Council’s Civic Reception Lounge, 6-7pm.

Iain White, professor of environmental planning, will host the panel.

Green Party water spokesperson Catherine Delahunty, who will join the discussion, says New Zealanders are right to be concerned about the quality of their water.

“There are figures that show more than 60% of our monitored rivers aren’t clean enough to swim in,” she says, “and a big part of that problem is down to large-scale dairy farming,” she says..

“A recent OECD report highlighted New Zealand’s poor freshwater quality – and this is the country with the clean, green brand.”

Ms Delahunty believes dairy growth is costing the environment more than ever before, citing a report from the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that shows dairy intensification is causing more pollution to our waterways, and the water quality of many waterways is continuing to decline.

Professor Jacqueline Rowarth, another of the panellists, says we need to be mindful of context.

“We tend to focus on reports of change rather than absolutes when it comes to our water quality,” she says.

“The Waikato River, which runs through heartland dairy country in New Zealand has one of the lowest nitrate concentrations, 0.44mg of nitrate per litre of water, reported by the OECD for 2011. In comparison, London’s Thames river, which is reported as healthy, is consistently higher at 6mg of nitrate per litre, and is home to 120 species of fish. These fish have returned to a river that was, due to sewerage discharge, considered to be biologically dead at Tower Bridge in 1985.”

She also says our rivers are much cleaner than they were 50 years ago.

“We routinely monitor E.coli (bacteria) levels, which indicate whether the water quality is suitable for swimming and other contact recreation. We know that much of the Waikato River is safe to swim in – but other factors such as the current and submerged hazards are also a factor in determining the safety for swimming.

“Although more than 60% of monitored sites were declared a problem in 2013, they were being monitored because of high human and animal concentrations – which are found in cities and towns, for instance.”

Maori and indigenous legal issues expert Associate Professor Linda Te Aho, economist Dr Dan Marsh and Waikato Federated Farmers president Chris Lewis will join the discussion too.

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