Southerly by David Haywood

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Southerly: The End of Lake Ellesmere?

20 Responses

  • Russell Brown,

    Trust you didn't mind me opening a discussion on your post David. I have a great childhood memory of dragging for flounder in Lake Ellesmere, and your post is fascinating and not a little alarming.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18822 posts Report Reply

  • Judi Lapsley Miller,

    Thanks for posting the link to the article - a fascinating read. I particularly liked how you intertwined the human interest story and the environmental story.

    Also wondering if in the future, rising sea levels may cause sea water to wash into the lake rather than v-v...??

    And will the current rhetoric about the importance of the environment, which is coming from all directions of the political spectrum these days, actually cause any policy change... we can only hope!

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 100 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    i'm a pig islander and therefore ignorant, but i have to break my recently imposed PA system-silence to register my disgust at the idea of more freaking cattle.

    this is the same state of mind that puts wool-coated animals in the desert (and yes, i'm looking at you Australia...).

    kyoto'll fix those buggers good, i reckon.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2026 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    Russell Brown wrote:

    Trust you didn't mind me opening a discussion on your post

    No problem, Russell.

    Incidentally, more information about general water issues in Canterbury can be found at the Water Rights Trust website.

    And some interesting information on sustainable farming in New Zealand can be found in this report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment

    Judi Lapsley Miller wrote:

    Also wondering if in the future, rising sea levels may cause sea water to wash into the lake rather than v-v...??

    Wish I'd thought of asking this question to the NIWA scientists! Kaitorete Spit is relatively high (2 - 3 metres above sea level) so hopefully this won't be a problem. Of course, the spit is also rather permeable, so perhaps infiltration by seawater will be an issue.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Capewell,

    A great piece David, cheers.

    Manchester • Since Nov 2006 • 62 posts Report Reply

  • stephen walker,

    nice little essay, David. i haven't read the linked material yet, but after seeing the comment of your acquaintance about turning the lake bed into dairy farms, i have to ask, do these people really think dairying is sustainable in Canterbury? surely, in 20 years time, all of the aquifers will be buggered and it will be all over. no lake, no cows, no water and no human ecosystem.

    talk about discounting the future...

    nagano • Since Nov 2006 • 633 posts Report Reply

  • Wammo,

    in 20 years time, all of the aquifers will be buggered and it will be all over. no lake, no cows, no water and no human ecosystem.

    In a recent interview on Campbell Live about water in Canterbury the Federated Farmers president showed very little concern about long term issues and was more concerned about dairy farm economic impacts and job creation in local communities. This short sighted view ignors the long term hurt caused to these growing communities when water resources are depleted. I was astounded when he neglected to even use the current buzz word of the moment - sustainable.

    Apparently Christchurch is one of a few cities in the world that does not need to treat its water supply. The word is that Nitrates from Canterbury farming will have leeched into this supply in 20 to 25 years. Sad very sad.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 42 posts Report Reply

  • Emma Hart,

    I've lived on the Plains since I was four, and regularly driven the road between Christchurch and Timaru several times a year.

    There wasn't enough water there for SHEEP in the 80s. Dairy farming is just unsustainable. It's already affecting other businesses in the area, from tourist cafes that can't flush their toilets to fishing guides like my father-in--civil-union-law. Every time I see irrigation going full bore in a howling nor-wester my blood pressure rises.

    North Canterbury farmers polluted their own bores so badly they had to start buying in bottled water. I'm not anti-farming and I've nothing against dairying in climates that can sustain it, but when your lack of care for the environment gets to the point where you've poisoned your children's drinking water, you really do have to start wondering.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 4352 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Thanks for the great read. It's particularly striking how green the lake looks from space...
    Water is a huge looming crisis for Canterbury. (Tho' ironically, a filled in lake ellesmere would be some of the best, most suitable dairying in the province.) Ecan have simply not done their job with regard to the (continuing!) dairy conversions- conversions that were controversial a decade ago. We will pay dearly.
    I've got specific love for Kaitorete Spit: it's "cinematic" in a way that few experiences can match. On a more positive note, I remember reading next-door lake Forsyth was almost dead and has been (partially) revived. A completely different catchment, but maybe there's some hope.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 1540 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby,

    OK, at a different computer.

    i saw that campbell live interview. that numnut insisting that the only reason NZL had a decent environment is because of farming made my jaw drop. my first thought being, other than the nitrate poisoning of the rotorua lakes you mean...

    a similar farming-is-good-for-the-environment what-the-fcuk-do-you-townies-know meme runs in aussie. a meme that conveniently ignores the emptying of rivers to feed rice crops. rice crops in semi-arid landscapes. a meme that ignores salinity problems across huge areas of rural areas.

    it really does baffle me that people still think that hell-for-leather development of farming land is the answer to growing the economy.

    mind you, it's the same kind of mindset that sees good farming land turned into great sprawling townhouse developments.

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2026 posts Report Reply

  • Jackie Clark,

    Lovely article, David, thankyou. What has always confused me is that the NZ tourist board and others tout our clean, green image, and yet the people who could ensure that we stay that way, seem to have no long term vision. Tourists come here partly because they see us as a pristine, clean, green place, I suspect. If we don't protect our wetlands, and our lakes, and our forests, and our waterways - then we need to acknowledge that we are no different to the places that the tourists come from. So why would they bother to come here? I'm of the firm opinion that tourism dollars are where it's at, really, in terms of economic, sustainable growth. And everything that can be done to protect our environment can only be a good thing for us all.

    Mt Eden, Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3123 posts Report Reply

  • Kiwiiano,

    The "let the lake bed be converted to dairying" reminds me of the (reputedly) Ameri-Indian saying:

    When the last tree has been cut down,
    when the last river is poisoned,
    when the last fish is killed,
    they'll discover you can't eat money.

    ChCh • Since Nov 2006 • 22 posts Report Reply

  • Jason Lea,

    they'll discover you can't eat money.

    Now is the time for the reserve bank to step up and make sure our money is edible. They were short sighted with the recent change to our coins.

    Christchurch • Since Nov 2006 • 30 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    Jason Lea wrote:

    Now is the time for the reserve bank to step up and make sure our money is edible.

    Excellent point Jason -- I have often thought the same thing.

    Wammo wrote:

    Apparently Christchurch is one of a few cities in the world that does not need to treat its water supply. The word is that Nitrates from Canterbury farming will have leeched into this supply in 20 to 25 years.

    This neatly highlights the problem with environmental 'idealism' vs. 'pragmatism'. I would personally feel that a pristine water supply has an intrinsic value that must be protected. However my environmentally pragmatic acquaintance would point out that the cost of treating the Canterbury water supply can be accurately predicted (millions), and the benefits from fertilizer use in Canterbury can be accurately measured (billions). So from his point of view there is really no argument.

    Talking to the scientists who study such things it seems that the current situation in Canterbury has all the ingredients for a real environmental crisis. It will be interesting to see what happens over the coming years.

    I’m planning to do a bit more journalistic poking around into the water situation in Canterbury -- and I shall be sure to keep Public Address readers informed of any interesting findings.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 982 posts Report Reply

  • Felix Marwick,

    David,
    as one who has journalistically poked around the Canterbury water situation for several years (before moving on to other pastures) I wish you the best with your endeavours. The trade off that has, and is, occurring with the farming interests is fascinating to observe. Add an ever changing scientific knowledge into the mix (eg the classifying of the water red zones) and you have a very heady mix.

    I'd specifically recommend looking at the Central Plains Water scheme. Especially now Ngai Tahu have secured water take rights that the scheme's backers were depending on for their project.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 194 posts Report Reply

  • Clem_Smith,

    David,

    Your friend who suggested that the lake should be drained was hardly worthy of the breathless implication that he/she had said something original. Rather he was merely spouting the prevailing orthodoxy which has resulted in over ninety percent of our wetlands being lost. It is up to people like you, who can see that intrinsic values are important, to continue taking up the cudgels against the relentless destruction of our heritage for commercial gain.

    While, as in the case of your friend, these arguments will fall upon deaf ears help is on its way, ironically enough in the form of commercial interests. As globalisation takes hold governments and interest groups will look for more and more legal trade barriers. Tapping into a growing environmental movement offers such a legal barrier. An easy an effective way of measuring the environmental effect an industry is having is to monitor the downstream waterways. Imagine what would happen to the New Zealand dairy industry if a group of EU environmental monitors arrived to check on the Canterbury herd, only to find that the lake they had come to test had been drained and was full of cows.

    Fisherman's Point, Canter… • Since Dec 2006 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • D M Robertson,

    For some historical context see Waihora: Maori Associations with Lake Ellesmere. By W.A. Taylor. Leeston [N.Z.] : Ellesmere Guardian Print, [1944].

    http://library.christchurch.org.nz/Heritage/Publications/Waihora/
    recently digitised by Christchurch City Libraries

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • Yamis,

    I heard they were draining Lake Ellesmere to turn it into a 400,000 seat stadium to be opened in time for the 2045 Rugby Leagunion World Cup.

    Bottled water will be imported from Antarctica and be available at stadium temperature for 27 dollars a litre and cows will mow the pitch while robots will ref the matches from outer space via satellites.

    Since Nov 2006 • 868 posts Report Reply

  • Leila Claypoole,

    As a past resident of Fisherman's Point, I find it total absurd to suggest emptying the Lake.The Wairhoa Trust was set up in 2004 with an active membership working on the conservation of the Lake. The flounder season in 2005 was large the fish fleshier than seen for years,hence so much for pollution. With global warming the levels of the lake may well suprise. The Salt level of the lake is carefully monitored and usually stands at 20%.

    Since Jan 2007 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • David Haywood,

    It seems a reply to some of these comments is well overdue from me...

    Firstly, thank you Felix and D M Robertson for your suggestions -- very helpful!

    Responding to some of the other contributions...

    Clem Smith wrote:

    Your friend who suggested that the lake should be drained was hardly worthy of the breathless implication that he/she had said something original.

    I didn't mean to breathlessly imply any such thing! You're quite right that (unfortunately) NZ has been doing this sort of thing for years. I included this suggestion merely to illustrate the divergence of opinion in terms of the preservation of Canterbury's natural landscape. Sorry if it sounded breathless!

    Leila Claypoole wrote:

    As a past resident of Fisherman's Point, I find it total absurd to suggest emptying the Lake.

    Thanks for your comment, Leila. I also think it's an absurd suggestion (see above). I was merely reporting what someone else had said to me. I certainly don't think it's a good idea -- and I hope that I make this clear in the post.

    Leila Claypoole also wrote:

    The flounder season in 2005 was large the fish fleshier than seen for years, hence so much for pollution.

    I'm not familiar with the life cycle of flounder, but it may be that the additional algal growth that arises from moderately eutrophic conditions is beneficial to them (although I wonder how the flounder population compares with the mid-nineteenth century when hundreds of fishermen worked the lake). At any rate, scientific studies have shown that populations of other animal species in the lake have certainly declined, as I said in the Avenues article (see #2 under the heading "More on Lake Ellesmere" at the end of my original post):

    > Investigations by the National Institute of Water
    > and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) show that both the
    > number and growth rate of Ellesmere's long-fin eels
    > have diminished significantly over recent years.
    > Poor water quality has driven other fish species
    > almost to the verge of extinction. For example, the
    > number of spawning brown trout recorded in
    > Ellesmere’s inflowing waterways has declined from
    > 65,000 in 1949 to only 87 in 2004.

    The pollution of Lake Ellesmere by nitrogen and phosphate compounds is an established scientific fact, I'm afraid. NIWA scientists have directly measured large amounts of these compounds in the lake water. And these scientists are certainly very worried about Ellesmere, as I reported in the Avenues article:

    > NIWA scientist Dr Clive Howard-Williams has studied
    > the lake for many years, and is unequivocal about its
    > prospects: "Ellesmere will continue to deteriorate".
    > Howard-Williams says that urgent action must be taken
    > to halt the lake's decline. "It definitely won’t get
    > better if we do nothing. Some intervention has to take
    > place to slow the input of nutrients if we don't want
    > the lake to get worse."

    While informal measurements of pollution (such as the perception of catch size or fleshiness) are useful, it seems to me that we should pay most attention to proper scientific measurements, and to what our scientists have to say.

    Leila Claypoole also wrote:

    The Wairhoa Trust was set up in 2004 with an active membership working on the conservation of the Lake.

    I wonder if you have read all of the material that I posted? In the Avenues article I interviewed Jason Arnold, the co-ordinator of the Waihora Ellesmere Trust (WET), and reported some of his comments. He certainly seemed to be worried about Ellesmere, saying:

    > "Ellesmere is clearly unwell at the moment..."
    >
    > "If we can’t make the necessary improvements,
    > then the lake is really in trouble."

    Leila Claypoole also wrote:

    With global warming the levels of the lake may well suprise.

    You are clearly an optimist! Personally speaking, I wouldn't rely on one environmental disaster to cancel out another. Although if the lake levels undergo a significant rise then the residents of Lincoln and Prebbleton will certainly be surprised -- as it will flood their towns. We can but hope, I suppose...

    Leila Claypoole also wrote:

    The Salt level of the lake is carefully monitored and usually stands at 20%.

    Errr... are you sure that the salinity of Ellesmere is kept at 20 per cent? Wouldn't that make it nearly six times more saline than normal seawater?

    Many thanks for your comments Leila -- and everyone else. I am heartened that people are still interested in discussing this topic.

    Dunsandel • Since Nov 2006 • 982 posts Report Reply

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