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Precious habitat . . . Wetland ecosystems are one of the most difficult natural areas to re-establish. PHOTO: ALLIED PRESS FILES

By Ines Stager

The Government’s proposed changes to the National Freshwater Policy are now out for public comment.

There is room for positive change everywhere, both in the urban and rural environment. We all need to seriously look at how we protect precious water, use it wisely and be prepared to change habits to ensure future generations of New Zealanders can enjoy a healthy environment.

Ninety percent of our wetlands, the kidneys of our waterways, have disappeared. They have been drained to make room for “productive” land.

While detailed protection is proposed in the policy, there are still flaws. Areas less than 500sq m are not protected, but we have lost most of the wetland systems already, so why can’t we put a complete halt to this destruction?

Wetland ecosystems are one of the most difficult natural areas to re-establish. Just planting a few wetland species is no compensation for a naturally occurring system.

Ines Stager

Forestry is exempt from these wetland provisions. How can this be justified?

A new measurement in the plan is pollution limits from sedimentation. Silt fences to retain sediments during any construction work have been mandatory in planning documents for a long time but have hardly ever been implemented.

While this may have been concentrated in the urban environment, it should not be overlooked. The rural environment has been exposed in recent times as sedimentation run-off occurs as a result of mud-filled paddocks under intensive winter grazing. High sediment levels encourage algal bloom and clog up spaces where fish live and feed.

Ecological health is considered in the plan, so that freshwater fish, plants and macroinvertebrates have a chance to fulfil their role in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

Furthermore, nobody enjoys brown sludge polluting clean waterways.

The rules on intensive winter grazing are totally inadequate. The threshold of 30ha is simply too high, and to allow pugging to a depth of 20cm is too much.

Stock exclusion from waterways is a positive step and many land managers have fenced off streams already. Setbacks of 5m from a waterway are proposed. This figure has no scientific backing to say whether it is effective or otherwise.

Such setbacks need to be vegetated with appropriate plants, be kept weed free and not be grazed. Any bare patches won’t be effective in retaining pollution on land. Instead toxins will run off into the waterways.

There is a long list of other topics in the document, but not enough space to discuss these here. Now is your chance to stand up for values you treasure.

The official closing date for submissions is Thursday, October 17, at 5pm.

However, submissions will be accepted for a further two weeks beyond that date, until October 31.

See the link below.

www.mfe.govt.nz/consultation/action-for-healthy-waterways

Ines Stager is a landscape architect based in Geraldine, a board member of the Royal Forest & Bird Protection Society and a committee member of the local branch.