Archive for the ‘Water’ Category

New environmental focus is set for irrigation funding

A change to the constitution of Crown Irrigation Investments Limited (CIIL) will allow it to fund water storage projects with direct environmental and economic benefits, rather than on the basis of purely economic grounds, Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy has announced.

This was an important change to CIIL’s mandate which recognised and reinforced the environmental importance of water storage and distribution projects, Guy said.

The current rules limit CIIL’s purpose to considering the long-term economic benefits from projects that it invests in.

But Guy said it made sense to broaden the scope given the wider benefits of these projects.

“It will now be able to provide concessionary loans to local authorities for projects that directly lead to environmental benefits.”

The change was requested by CIIL and has been formally approved by Cabinet.

Guy said this was good news for potential projects like the Waimea Community Dam near Nelson. The project captures Lee River flows and allows for the controlled release of stored water into the river system during periods of high water demand and/or low natural flows.

“Reliability of water provided by this project would allow pasture to be converted to higher value crops like apples. It would also recharge aquifers, provide water for municipal supply and improve water quality for recreational use.

“Likewise, projects like Central Plains Water is replacing 75-80% of groundwater take consents in the area, helping improve water flows into Lake Ellesmere.

“This change makes it even more disappointing that Labour and the Greens want to scrap all irrigation funding and tax water. This would be disastrous for growers, farmers and the regions. Industries like horticulture and viticulture need a reliable source of water to meet international demand and deal with droughts.”

CIIL is a Crown Entity Company established in 2013. Its purpose is to co-invest in schemes, provide grants for schemes in development, and apply commercial expertise and leadership to irrigation schemes.

With CIIL’s proposed change now approved, it can also provide concessionary loans to local authorities.

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Supreme Court ruling on NZ’s largest irrigation dam proposal is examined

Massey University Associate Professor Christine Cheyne, in a guest post published on Sciblogs (HERE) discusses the recent Supreme Court rejection of a proposed land swap that would have flooded conservation land for the construction of the country’s largest irrigation dam.

The court was considering whether the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s investment arm could build a dam on 22 hectares of the protected Ruahine Forest Park in exchange for 170 hectares of private farm land.

The proposed dam is part of the $900 million Ruataniwha water storage and irrigation scheme.

The Government’s response to the ruling was to consider a law change to make land swaps easier.

Associate Professor Cheyne says the Supreme Court ruling has significant implications for the Ruataniwha dam.

“In addition, it asserts the importance of permanent protection of high-value conservation land. The ecological value of the Ruahine Forest Park land was never in question. The conservation land includes indigenous forest, a unique braided river and wetlands that would have been destroyed.

“The area is home to a dozen plants and animals that are classified as threatened or at risk. The developer’s ecological assessment acknowledged the destruction of ecologically significant land and water bodies. However, it argued that mitigation and offsetting would ensure that any effects of habitat loss were at an acceptable level.”

The guest post reviews what has happened and the need for the conservation of unique ecosystems and landscapes.

It also contains advice for the Government:

The ConversationAmending the Conservation Act to allow land swaps involves a significant discounting of the future in favour of present day citizens. This is disingenuous and an affront to constitutional democracy. It would weaken one of New Zealand’s few anticipatory governance mechanisms at a time when they are needed more than ever.”

The article was originally published (HERE )on The Conversation.  

Govt report confirms rivers are facing serious challenges

New Zealand’s rivers and lakes are under increasing pressure, according to the latest national report from the Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ about the state of fresh water.

Our fresh water 2017 (HERE), released today, measures the quality of our waterways; water quantity and flows; biodiversity in rivers and lakes; and the cultural health of fresh water.

Key findings from the report are:

    • nitrogen levels are getting worse at 55 per cent and getting better at 28 per cent of monitored river sites across New Zealand;
    • phosphorus levels are getting better at 42 per cent and getting worse at 25 per cent of monitored river sites across New Zealand;
    • of the 39 native fish species we report on, 72 per cent are either threatened with or at risk of extinction;
    * levels are 22 times higher in urban areas and 9.5 times higher in pastoral rivers compared with rivers in native forest areas;
    • 51 per cent of water allocated for consumptive use is for irrigation, and 65 per cent of that is allocated to Canterbury.

Government Statistician Liz MacPherson said (HERE) the regular environment reports were important in providing a national picture of the state of our environment while acknowledging regional variations.

“This helps us see where the greatest pressures are and where we are performing well,” she said. “Today’s report confirms our freshwater environment faces a number of serious challenges.”

Secretary for the Environment Vicky Robertson said land use clearly affected the state of fresh water in this country.

“This report confirms our urban waterways are the most polluted but we are seeing more declining trends in pastoral areas and it’s important we do something about it now and continue to track any progress.”

More information was still needed on fresh water biodiversity.

“It’s clear many species are under pressure. Of the 39 native fish species we report on, 72 per cent are either threatened with or at risk of extinction. About a third of native freshwater plants and invertebrates are also at risk,” Ms Robertson said.

“Recently there has been a strong focus on how swimmable our waterways are, but that is just part of the story. The implications for our freshwater species are really critical.

“Many of our species are found nowhere else in the world so it is even more crucial we don’t lose any under our watch. We need to consider the resilience of all species in any decisions we make that affect the environment.”

Other recent reports also demonstrated the significant impact from human activity on our fresh water quality and quantity and on our ecosystems, habitats and species, Ms Robertson said.

“The more studies there are, the better we understand the impact people have on fresh water. However, we can’t wait for perfect data to act. This report identifies some key issues we can focus on for actions.”

Ms MacPherson said Our fresh water 2017 used the best available data and was independently quality assured.

“Good science, data, and information have the potential to shape our choices and the impact we have on our environment at the national, regional, and community level.”

More work was needed on collecting and reporting consistent data on fresh water, including filling gaps in our knowledge, said Ms MacPherson.

“It will take time and effective collaboration to get the reliable, well-structured, and relevant statistics we need and we are continually looking at ways to improve data for future reports.”

Ms MacPherson noted that as with the other reports in the environmental reporting series, Our fresh water 2017 was focused on providing underlying evidence to help inform policy responses and the public debate.

“Past experience shows where we focus our energy, we can make a difference,” said Ms Robertson. “Over time we have become better at identifying and addressing point source pollution in water. Good fertiliser and erosion management in some areas appears to have helped decrease phosphorous in some waterways. We must explore more ways to effectively improve our most vulnerable waterways.”

The report is the second since the Environmental Reporting Act came into effect in June 2016. The next report – about atmosphere and climate – will be out in October 2017.

 

Report explains the science of NZ’s freshwater estate

Sir Peter Gluckman, the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, has released a report designed to assist in understanding the complexity of issues surrounding the condition and stewardship of our freshwater.

With growing interest in the state of New Zealand’s freshwaters and the policy decisions needed to ensure stewardship of the estate, the report aims to provide common understandings of the scientific and technical knowledge on which freshwater ecosystem management should be based. In doing so, the paper acknowledges the many  values New Zealanders place on freshwater and the different diversity of stakeholders.

The report provides an overview of the issues and a technical analysis for those who wish to explore the science further.

“My office started working on this report nearly a year ago, recognising the complexity of decisions and trade-offs that New Zealand faces between conserving our ecosystems and mitigating our agricultural, industrial and urban impacts,” said Sir Peter.

“Because of the Government’s recent ‘Clean Water’ consultation package, which includes proposed new approaches to defining ‘swimmability’, I thought it would be useful to accelerate the release of our report before the end of that consultation phase.”

Sir Peter’s report was developed with the assistance of the Freshwater Group at NIWA. It was reviewed by New Zealand and international academics and by the Departmental Science Advisors from the Department of Conservation and the Ministry for Environment.

The intent was to ensure diverse scientific perspectives on the challenges presented by New Zealand’s varied river catchments, lakes, estuaries and wetlands could be fully explored.

The issues extend from understanding the influence of distinct landscapes and watersheds, climate, and the diversity of uses and values of freshwater systems, to the ecology of our native freshwater plants, fish, insects, and birds. The report explores the impacts of our pastoral agricultural system, urbanisation, industrialisation and climate change, and how these might be managed to maintain and restore New Zealand’s freshwater estate.

“Water is not a trivial issue for New Zealand and New Zealanders,” said Sir Peter.

“Our cultural and economic relationship to our land and water defines us, and I felt the importance of the issues merited a full explanation of all the freshwater science that informs them.”

The report is available on the PMCSA website HERE. 

 

US study finds 11 per cent of disappearing groundwater is used to grow globally traded food

A new study by researchers at the University College London and NASA’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies in New York City shows that 11 per cent of the global non-renewable groundwater drawn up for irrigation goes to produce crops that are then traded on the international market.  Two-thirds of the exported crops that depend on non-renewable groundwater are produced in Pakistan (29 per cent), the United States (27 per cent), and India (12 per cent).

The analysis is the first to determine which specific crops come from groundwater reservoirs that can’t quickly be replenished and where they are consumed.

Some underground aquifers replenish so slowly that they are essentially a non-renewable resource.

Countries that export and import these crops may be at risk of losing the crops (and economic benefits)  produced with non-renewable groundwater.  Importers may need to find alternative sources, possibly at a higher cost.

The results were published in Nature on March 30 (see HERE).

“When people consume certain imported foods, they should be aware that they can have an impact on the environment elsewhere,” said lead author Carole Dalin, of the University College London.

Dalin and her colleagues used trade data on countries’ agricultural commodities from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation. They then combined it with a global hydrologic model — validated with ground information and NASA satellite data — to trace the sources of water used to produce 26 specific crop classes from their country of origin to their final destination.

Co-author Michael Puma, of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University, explained conjectured on how the data might be used.

“Say I’m in Japan, and I’m importing corn from the United States.  It’s important from Japan’s perspective to know whether that corn is being produced with a sustainable source of water, because you can imagine in the long term if groundwater declines too much, the United States will have difficulty producing that crop.”

Globally, 18 per cent of all crops are traded internationally. The remaining 82 per cent stays in country for the domestic market.  But the amounts of various exported crops produced using unsustainable groundwater rose significantly between 2000 and 2010.

In India, for example, exports of groundwater-depleting crops doubled in that period while Pakistan’s increased by 70 per cent and the United States’ rose by 57 percent.

Major importers of crops raised with non-renewable groundwater include the United States, Iran, Mexico, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Canada, Bangladesh, the United Kingdom, Iraq, and China, which went from a net exporter in 2000 to a net importer in 2010. Countries on both lists often export different commodities than they import.

Wheat, rice, sugar, cotton and maize are among the essential internationally traded crops in the global economy.  To produce them many countries rely on irrigated agriculture that accounts for about 70 per cent of global freshwater withdrawals, according to the United Nations Water programme.

Aquifers form when water accumulates in the ground over time, sometimes over hundreds or thousands of years. Non-renewable aquifers are those that do not accumulate rainfall fast enough to replace what is drawn out to the surface, either naturally to lakes and rivers or in this case by people via pumping.

Dalin explained that once the groundwater is depleted, it will effectively be gone for good on the scale of a human life-time, and will no longer be available for relief during crises such as droughts.

Drawdowns in aquifers worldwide have been observed over the last 15 years by NASA’s Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment, a pair of satellites that detect changes in Earth’s gravity field to see the movement of masses such as ice sheets and, in this case, underground water.

“What’s innovative about this study is it connects groundwater depletion estimates with country level data,” said NASA hydrologist Matt Rodell at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who was not involved in the study.

More research was needed to consider population growth, changing diets, climate change, the implementation of irrigation technology and policy changes to understand when these aquifers may begin to run dry, he said.

Dalin said the absolute amount of water in many of these aquifers is difficult to quantify, though experts in many regions are already looking at better methods to determine how much water remains and how long it may last.  Now and in the future, decision-makers and local farmers will need to decide on a strategy for using this non-renewable water that balances the needs of short-term production versus long-term sustainability, she said.

New detection system revolutionises water quality tests

Students on an Environmental Health Monitoring course at Massey University in Wellington are the first in the country to use a new rapid automated microbiology detection system to monitor water quality.

The students used the TECTA B16 system to detect Total coliforms and E.coli in drinking water and river water samples from a range of sites in the Wellington region.

Stan Abbott, course supervisor and leader of Massey’s Roof Water Harvesting Centre, said the students quickly familiarised themselves with the sophisticated workings of the TECTA B16 machine.

“In this digital age our students are all so tech savvy, they understood how to operate the machine with a minimum of fuss, much like them using a new computer or smartphone for the first time,” he says.

Havelock North waterborne disease outbreak last year, when more than 5,000 people contracted Campylobacter, highlighted the need for fast and accurate water quality monitoring tests.

“This new monitoring system is relevant also to the E.coli threshold level, which has been hotly debated around the Government’s recent launch of its new Clean Water policy,” Mr Abbott says.

“There has been an endless tide of opinions about the risks that will confront the public when they swim in many of New Zealand’s rivers and lakes, proving that water quality safety for both drinking and swimming in is paramount.”

Mr Abbott said the major advantages of the TECTA B16 automated detection system include:

• A complete, self-contained desktop, touch screen control automated microbiology testing system that is simple to operate and does not require specially qualified personnel.

• Minimal handling of samples and no sample preparation is required. A test can be initiated anytime, while all samples do not have to be loaded into the machine at the same time.

• Full automation of the test analysis and interpretation processes eliminates the need for subjective, visual interpretation of results. An objective, written test report is produced automatically for each sample tested.

Another big advantage is that the machine automatically transmits the data through a network connection to allow immediate notification on electronic devices, such as cell phones or laptops, as soon as a contaminated water sample is detected.

Total coliform and E.coli results are available in two to 18 hours, depending on the level of contamination in the water sample. This immediate notification and early warning of positive sample results as soon as they occur should revolutionise water testing,” he says.

The TECTA B16 system received United States Environmental Protection Agency approval in 2014 and the New Zealand Ministry of Health approved the system for testing drinking water samples for compliance in August 2016.

Three water-testing agencies in New Zealand so far have bought the system.

Govt sets freshwater target: 90% of rivers and lakes to be swimmable by 2040

The Government has announced a target of 90 per cent of New Zealand’s lakes and rivers meeting swimmable water quality standards by 2040.

Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith said the plan is backed by national regulations requiring stock to be fenced out of waterways, new national policy requirements on regional councils to strengthen their plan rules on issues such as sewage discharges and planting riparian margins, a new Freshwater Improvement Fund and new maps that clearly identify where improvements are needed.

Meeting the goal is estimated to cost the Government, farmers and councils $2 billion over the next 23 years.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy (HERE) said the Ministry for Primary Industries continues to work with the primary sectors to invest in good ideas which promote environmental best practice. One example is the Farm Systems Change program, which identifies high preforming farms and uses farmers’ networks to spread their knowledge.

Another is a major programme under the Primary Growth Partnership, called Transforming the Dairy Value Chain. Under this programme effluent management systems have been improved, and every region now has a riparian planting guideline developed in conjunction with regional councils, Guy said.

“We also know that science will play a major role in improving our freshwater. The ‘Our Land and Water’ National Science Challenge is investing $96.9 million over 10 years into this, hosted by AgResearch and involving six other Crown research institutes.

In his announcement (HERE) Dr Smith said the target recognised that our frequent major rainfalls mean a 100 per cent standard is not realistic.

The target covers the length of rivers over 0.4m deep and the perimeters of lakes greater than 1.5km, which total 54,000km.

The plan is about improving the frequency that we can swim in our lakes and rivers, noting that even our cleanest rivers breach swimming water quality standards during storms.

The swimmable target is based on meeting the water quality standard at least 80 per cent of the time, in line with European and US definitions. Currently 72 per cent by length meet this definition, and the target is to increase that to 90 per cent by 2040. This means an additional 10,000km of swimmable rivers and lakes by 2040, or 400km per year.

The maps provide comprehensive and consistent information on water quality for swimming of New Zealand’s rivers and lakes. They are intended to help focus councils and communities on improving their local water quality, as well as helping people make decisions about where they can safely swim.

The maps are connected to the Land, Air, Water Aotearoa website that provides real-time information on water quality, which is particularly relevant for the fair and intermittent categories.

The target not only requires an improvement in areas that are swimmable, ie into the fair category, but also rivers and lakes being moved from fair to good, and good to excellent. Regional targets to achieve the national goals are to be worked through with regional councils by March 2018.

Some regional targets will need to be greater than the 90 per cent and others, where it is more difficult to achieve, will be less, Smith said.  .

The National Policy Statement (NPS) for Freshwater Management is being strengthened to support the new 90 per cent by 2040 swimmability target, as well as changes to address the issues of ecological health and nutrients.

New regulations on excluding stock from waterways are an important part of this plan to improve water quality. The rules progressively apply to dairy, pig, dairy support, beef and deer farms from this year to 2030 relative to the steepness of the country, at an expected cost of $367 million.

Bids have been opened for the new $100m Freshwater Improvement Fund and announcing the eligibility and assessment criteria, which closes on 13 April. This comes on top of the $350m already committed by the government, of which more than $140m has been spent on specific river and lake clean-ups.

The detail of the NPS and Stock Exclusion Regulations are open for consultation until 28 April 2017.

The press statement was accompanied by a Q& A paper and a paper titled Clean Water. 

To read the proposals, and find out how to have your say, visit www.mfe.govt.nz