Many water challenges highlighted in report

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by Al Williams
Historic wetlands have been drained, land use has intensified and water allocation has consistently increased, driven primarily by irrigation, leaving some areas of South Canterbury over-allocated.
Those are some of the key findings from the September Orari-Temuka-Opihi-Pareora healthy catchments project, which was presented and discussed at a public meeting in Timaru last week.
The meeting was part two of a four-stage project aimed at assessing future possibilities for the area’s water and developing practical solutions before September 2017.
The report also found nitrate levels were increasing in surface water and groundwater in many parts of the zone, there were issues with periphyton and recently cynobacterial blooms and E. coli, posing a risk in some surface water bodies.
The zone was often considered “water short” and in many areas had poor reliability of supply, particularly in recent years, while primary, processing and other connected industries contributed a significant amount to economic growth in the zone.
The 60-page report outlines rainfall, land use, total irrigated area, groundwater allocation volumes, surface water use, water flows, recreation water grades, fish species, nitrate levels, drinking water quality, and economic and tourism indicators with year-on-year comparisons.
Orari-Temuka-Opihi-Pareora water zone management committee chairman John Talbot said the committee would be making recommendations for environmental limits some time next year and those recommendations would become the basis of a set of “practical solutions to address these challenges”.
Stage one had already been completed with a wish list of community outcomes; stage two would establish the state of the zone; stage three would assess future possibilities; and stage four would see practical solutions developed.
Arowhenua representative Karl Russell, whoat the meeting, voiced “serious concerns over the next 50 years” for the catchment.
“We all have our wants and needs with regards to water and if we don’t fix the environment at that level, it doesn’t matter what any of us want, it won’t be there,” Mr Russell said.
“In real simple terms, a healthy Opihi River means we are able to gather food and harvest it.
“The Opihi River for us is very significant. A healthy Opihi means we have healthy people making healthy decisions.”
Mr Russell suggested the community look at the “bigger picture”.
“We have to start changing our language from ‘I want this and I want that’.”
“We all have to park our wants.”
The area was significant in terms of trails, settlement sites, mountains, canoe sites, pa, burial sites, ovens, and food sources, he said.
“Our concerns include relocation of whanau, loss of opportunities for learning, as there has been a mass exodus of our people since the 1970s, and the ramping up of commercial industries.”
Studies carried out in the catchment of eels, flounder, salmon and trout had found high quantities of mercury, Mr Russell said.
“The impact is even bigger on the wider community; we are going to have some serious concerns over the next 50 years.”