On Thursday 18 April, the Ministry for the Environment released the Environment Aotearoa 2019 report. The report provides an overview of the state of our environment, with evidence-based knowledge collated over three years of reporting.

This report identifies a number of key issues with the current protection and management of our waterways. A key aspect of our AIP is the creation of a restoration entity to protect the Tarawera awa. This is one of the many reasons why we believe it is so important that we move forward with our settlement in the near future.

The report identified nine priority issues:

  1.  Our native plants, animals and ecosystems are under threat
  2.  Changes to the vegetation on our land are degrading the soil and water
  3.  Urban growth is reducing versatile land and native biodiversity
  4.  Our waterways are polluted in farming areas
  5.  Our environment is polluted in urban areas
  6.  Taking water changes flows which affects our freshwater ecosystems
  7.  The way we fish is affecting the health of our ocean environment
  8.  New Zealand has high greenhouse gas emissions per person
  9.  Climate change is already affecting Aotearoa New Zealand

The report used several key themes to explore the interconnected system of the environment. This included how we use the land, the ecosystems and biodiversity, pollution from our activities, and how we use freshwater and marine resources.

Freshwater was a key focus throughout Environment Aotearoa 2019. The report identified the following themes around the state of freshwater and how it is used:

  • Pollution of waterways from farming – excess nutrients and disease-causing microorganisms affect our rivers, lakes, groundwater, and coastal areas. This type of pollution affects almost all farmed areas in Aotearoa New Zealand and involves major changes to the natural state of our waterways.
  • Waterways in farming areas are polluted by excess nutrients, pathogens, and sediment. This threatens our freshwater ecosystems and cultural values and may make our water unsafe for drinking and recreation.
  • It can be difficult to reverse the effects of pollution to our waterways. Several factors must be considered when assessing the ‘irreversibility’ or lasting effects of change to the environment; including:
    • the issue is often widespread
    • some catchments respond slowly to interventions
    • farming and industry are important to the economy
    • there may have been a significant departure from natural conditions
  • Seventy-one percent of river length in areas of pastoral farming has modelled levels of nitrogen that may cause some growth effect on aquatic species, and 82 percent of river length in farmed areas has modelled pathogen levels that pose risks to human health from swimming. Both degrade cultural well-being.
  • Effects on cultural values – changes in water quality can significantly affect the binding force between physical and spiritual elements and wairua (spirituality, connections to atua) of waterways. This can contribute to the decline of iwi and hapū relationships with the environment.
  • The report includes a case study of the restoration project that was undertaken to improve the water quality at Ōtukaikino Creek in Christchurch (see page 56).

The full report can be viewed on the Ministry for the Environment’s website, here.