The Press interview 23.9.16

Yes and no – you have this now, at your own risk. That will always be the case, given dense waterfowl on lower reaches and human impacts like urban stormwater, trace chemicals, pet faeces and trash debris, not to mention intensive farming. So we must spare no effort to clean up all rivers, to make them ‘swimmable’ to the greatest extent possible, but mostly for what lives in them. The simplistic, nonsensical slogan “swimmable rivers” hides the fact that surface water exists on a 0-10 quality spectrum, changing over time and place under natural conditions mostly (that could drown you) with huge land-use challenges against which mere words have little effect. An admirable and essential goal to aspire to, nonetheless, so let’s get to work on it practically!
Optimise the ‘water management strategy’ and drop the anthropocentric consumerism the slogans imply – it is a matter of balancing all the competing interests in water, especially of natural species. And of introduced species. Regulate water takes and waste outputs very stringently, to make rural rivers more swimmable – not just wadeable. Urban rivers present equally complex challenges – tackle these with education, incentives and improved infrastructure too – but swimming in them and eating from them is an unwise expectation to set, at least for the immediate future.

Canterbury road congestion needs relief, future-planning and better public transport as essential parts of the mix. Ask people what they want and where they are needing to get to; adjust system to match full consultation for a change! Commuter rail between Rangiora, Christchurch and Rolleston would better utilise the rail corridor, save fossil fuel and put us ahead of urban growth, modernising the region. A new cropping industry producing food and carbon-neutral fuels would start regional sustainability and improve current transport fleet, while it is being phased out. Favour electric vehicles and active transport, connecting to a low-carbon bus fleet that has smaller, more frequent vehicles where practical. Use this and every other means to increase patronage and fare income, like wifi, solar phone charging, hail-and-ride, etc. Work with city and district councils to improve bus stops, bus priority, lanes etc. Keep fares low as possible to increase both dedicated and spontaneous custom.

That power and decisions are centralised in a corporate-command economy was shown in what happened to ECan in 2010. Regions like Wellington and Auckland need to ask themselves what New Zealand stands for if democracy is disposable at local level. The Governor-General who stood by democracy’s loss here should properly be considered for sacking. Commissioners forced through regulatory reforms that an elected ECan had struggled with, as irrigation farmers then had no other option but to comply, under a National government increasing agricultural water supply. From 2016, the new council including appointees must work together to optimise outcomes from strong plans laid out by both the elected and commissioner phases, moving forward collaboratively with communities. All water takes are now monitored, with fertiliser and animal waste run-off on close watch, through collective effort. This must continue, reinforced by good governance. Engaging the public is key to positive change and the changes we want, economically and environmentally, are really non-partisan concerns. National politics should not impinge upon sound local and ecological decisions. Use the 2016 limited ECan election as a referendum, to say that local democracy is not central government’s toy, that it is real practical loss whenever dispensed with – support the 2007 elected ECan Council (what is left of it) with your vote.

A paradigm shift is needed and this won’t be quick. What individuals say doesn’t factor as what pays really does. Environmental quality is valuable but this is new, thanks to tourism. We must find profitable forms of production that enhance, and stop the degrading of, the environment. We need those crops that make food, biofuel, manufacturing materials and new employment opportunities combined, and more; and these exist, under research at Lincoln University. These crops need little water and fix their own nitrogen to grow very well on dryland plains. The Canterbury Water Management Strategy is in place to break through natural limits of irrigation here, to stop water tables falling further and risking salt-water intrusion into vital aquifers. This is high-risk, high-debt strategy, to continue rapid farm growth on the current high-emission techniques. Nature does make us pay for untenable borrowings, with increased drought and flood risk particularly. But the global dairy market is much more fickle. We must do our part to balance the books in terms of resource management and future trade. Crops that capture carbon – and sustainable industry to fix it long-term, feed more people and run a carbon-neutral transport fleet while protecting the environment – can become a renewable cash-cow for the region and ECan should incentivise this innovation, attracting investment and greater confidence in our modernising, adaptive economy, made more secure.

ECan must show more of a lead around hazard reduction and emergency preparedness. It regulates in the former but has been sidelined in the latter, so communities are exposed to excess risk now. Particularly where the Alpine Fault and drought-driven fire risks are concerned. More work is also needed versus pest species, for ECan to coordinate.

The Press questions of 20/09/16 were:
– What is your position on freshwater quality? Should all rivers be swimmable all the time, or is that unrealistic?
– How do you think the regional council can balance promoting economic growth (particularly in terms of agriculture) and protecting the environment?
– What will your priorities be when it comes to public transport?
– What is your view on the decision to install commissioners in 2009/10, and the likely return to full democracy in 2019?
– Any other thoughts/opinions?

Refs:,,, 23.9.16 +,’s-bay-aquifers-met-drinking-water-standards-report, 26.9.16

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