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Recent statistics about our waterways are not good news. 44% of all monitored lakes are polluted beyond the point of eutrophication, and 62% of our lowland rivers have more pathogens than are safe to swim in. The stats are even worse for lowland lakes in farmland – a whopping 84% are so polluted they become eutrophic. In fact many of our waterways are so bad that even our native fish have disappeared. It’s not the clean green image we associate with New Zealand is it? And without significant intervention now, it’s only going to get worse.
Before humans arrived in New Zealand, a majority of our lowland waterways were heavily shaded by forests. Streams and rivers were cool, slowly meandering, stony-bottomed and supported an abundance of life. Great for drinking from, harvesting from and swimming in…
Over the last several hundred years, a large proportion of lowland forest has been cleared for
farming, forestry, horticulture and, of course, human habitation. Loss of vegetation and modification by us humans has many negative impacts on streams and rivers:
On top of that, intensive farming and other industrial practices have also contributed to the problem:
And it doesn’t stop there. The silt and contaminants course straight to our beaches and harbours, impacting the marine environment – especially shellfish, fish stocks and seaweeds.
Riparian restoration (replanting the banks of streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands) is a valuable
tool for improving water quality and enhancing freshwater biodiversity. While it is not the one magic bullet that will fix all the problems it is a great start. Local councils, farmers and community groups around New Zealand have already made a start replanting rural and urban waterways.
Riparian planting has the following benefits:
The health of our waterways affects all New Zealanders, so we all need to be part of the solution. Because if we don’t do something now, who will?