Talking on Water 5: Fit for purpose

The complexity of freshwater management can be appreciated when you realise that a river cannot be all things for all people, all the time.

Talking on Water cartoon 5.

River management is about respecting our wai. It is about making choices and choosing the paths that give the greatest benefit to water users, ensuring water quality is suitable for all the purposes we want it for, and maintaining or returning the water to the highest practicable level of quality.

Achieving balance requires good information and careful consideration.

Many streams, many perspectives

Taranaki’s rivers and streams are vital for the regional economy, for recreation, and for community water supplies. Ensuring that the quality of the region’s fresh water remains excellent is of paramount importance.

Maintaining and enhancing the mouri and wairua, or life force and spirit, of water is also a fundamental part of the kaitiakitanga, or guardianship, role that the tangata whenua have in relation to water. 

The Council and others have managed the region’s freshwater resources for more than 40 years to ensure that good-quality water is available for the varied needs of the region.

The complexity of the task can be appreciated when you realise that a river cannot be all things for all people, all the time. 

Theoretically, you could make them great for swimming by chopping down the trees that keep the water cold and gloomy, and drop leaves and branches in the channel, and shooting the birds that pollute the water with their droppings, and tearing down the fences that block public access (and keep stock out). But would you really want to?

For rivers to be ‘pure and natural’, you could keep the trees but you’d have to demolish water supply dams and wastewater treatment plants, and hydro dams. This would cost jobs and livelihoods, and push up costs for the basic services we take for granted. 

Even in ‘natural’ areas, the water in rivers and streams isn’t totally pure.

For rivers to be ‘drinkable’, you would not only have to eliminate all the birds and the cows, but also pour tonnes of chlorine into waterways, killing all the bugs. 

So we need to think carefully and discuss with each other the values we place on our water and how best to secure the services our rivers provide.