- Date published:
7:30 am, October 8th, 2016 - 60 comments
Categories: capitalism, Conservation, disaster, Economy, Environment, farming, maori party, national, sustainability, water - Tags: #nodapl, #waterislife, don't mention the climate change, standing rock
October 8 – 10th is four International Days of Prayer and Action with Standing Rock on stepping up as Protectors of Water. Background and ways to take part are outlined here. This post is in support of that.
Choose Clean Water and Action Station are currently running a campaign on clean water in the run up to presenting a petition and speaking to the Select Committee next week. There’s some good work being done here (follow the links, they’re all ways to take part), and it’s part of a larger movement in NZ to regain meaningful water standards. The main message from this movement is that instead of the National Government’s ‘wadeable’ standard, we want our rivers and lakes to be swimmable. On the face of it a laudable proposition.
Let’s start making some connections here. ‘Swimmable’ means you don’t expect to drink the water, otherwise the standard and the message would be ‘drinkable’. When I was growing up in the 70s, we swam in the local rivers, but we also drank from them. No-one even thought about this, it was a given. These were rivers bounded for the most part by sheep and beef farmland. When we went to the river it wasn’t just to swim, it was to relax and enjoy, be in nature, connect with places we loved, hang out, and all of that usually involved eating and drinking. We took food but we didn’t take water with us, we drank from the rivers.
A culture that doesn’t expect to drink from the rivers, has to carry water with it. For us at this time, that usually means plastic bottles. For many people, that is commercially bottled water.
On the other side of this is the intensification of farming and horticulture, particularly but not only industrial dairying. We’ve watched for more than a decade as our waterways become so polluted that we can no longer safely interact with many of them. Thus in 2016 we have the situation in Havelock North where two people have died, at least two people have ended up with serious, long term chronic illness and disability (that count is likely to be higher), and thousands of people have been made ill during a Campylobacter outbreak stemming from the town water supply. Good old clean green New Zealand’s rock star economy reaches dizzying new heights.
Meanwhile Havelock North local authorities sell access to the best water from the region at a minimal price to commercial, foreign-owned interests who bottle it and send it overseas. They also give them a hefty employer subsidy. The council doesn’t know how much water is there or what the impact will be, but it does know the aquifer has been slowly dropping over the last 20 years.
But it’s all just a mistake right? We can have industry and a rock star economy and clean water, if we just apply ourselves better. Let’s blame the government (local and national), and just reset the standards to something better and all will be well. We can always sell our water for a better price, and find the sweet spot between extraction and ecosystem collapse, that’s management.
There is something very wrong with this picture. It’s the cultural values that see water primarily as a resource to be managed, whether that’s for commerce or recreation. Waterways have no intrinsic value. Water is there for our use and if we manage it right then all will be well, as if we have ever been smart enough to know how to manage it right. But a culture that doesn’t expect to drink from the rivers will also not look after them to a standard that supports the ecosystem that the water itself is dependent on. Water is life not just because we need to drink it, but because everything we have depends on the environment we live in being healthy and sustaining itself over time. The Standard commentor Roy Cartland,
Wade-able, swimmable, drinkable: these are all standards lower than what most fish can survive at. Just because an adult human can drink it, does not mean an ecosystem can survive in it. We need higher standards than any party is promoting.
(I got all that and more from Mike Joy’s lecture.)
Let’s look at a different set of values. The Māori Party alone say fresh water should be safe to drink, swim in, and gather kai from. In their policy on water they frame it as a taonga.
Water – Te Mana o Te Wai
The Māori Party established Te Mana o Te Wai – the health and well-being of our water – as a driving policy for freshwater management. The three elements of Te Mana o Te Wai are:
te hauora o te wai – the health and mauri (quality and vitality) of water
te hauora o taiao – the health and mauri of the environment and
te hauora o te tangata – the health and mauri of the people.
The Māori Party want to “ensure that Te Mana o Te Wai remains as the overarching objective for freshwater management”.
Leaving aside issues of the Māori Party’s dilemma in supporting National (please, not in this conversation), what would it look like if NZ decided that the mana of the water was the guiding principle not just for all decisions but for the very relationship we have with water itself?