Written By: - Date published: 8:12 am, June 15th, 2013 - 38 comments
Categories: capitalism, climate change, Conservation, democracy under attack, greens, john key, labour, local government, Mining, sustainability, water - Tags: eugenie sage, maryan street, nick smith
Water is increasingly becoming a precious resource, under threat from pollution, over use, population growth, ill-judged prioritisation of the drive for commercial profits, and lax environmental pressures. The Guardian environment correspondent, Fiona Harvey warns that the Global majority faces water shortages ‘within two generations‘.
The majority of the 9 billion people on Earth will live with severe pressure on fresh water within the space of two generations as climate change, pollution and over-use of resources take their toll, 500 scientists have warned.
The world’s water systems would soon reach a tipping point that “could trigger irreversible change with potentially catastrophic consequences”, more than 500 water experts warned on Friday as they called on governments to start conserving the vital resource. They said it was wrong to see fresh water as an endlessly renewable resource because, in many cases, people are pumping out water from underground sources at such a rate that it will not be restored within several lifetimes.
On the face of it, temperate Aotearoa-New Zealand would seem to be well serviced with adequate water supplies for the future. Nevertheless our water supplies are increasingly coming under pressure. Te Ara provides this information:
The earth’s surface is dominated by water, but only about 2.5% of the estimated 1.4 billion cubic kilometres is fresh water. Most fresh water (68.9%) is stored as snow and ice in glaciers and icecaps, while most of the rest (30.8%) is groundwater. Only 0.3% of fresh water is in rivers and lakes.
New Zealand’s water resources
New Zealand has abundant water resources in snowfields, glaciers, groundwater aquifers, rivers and lakes. It ranks in the top 10 countries in the world for both quantity and quality of water.
Despite this abundance, the country is facing growing challenges in managing its water. In the 2000s, demand for water was increasing dramatically as a result of urban expansion and agriculture. Water supplies were not always in the right places at the right times to meet these demands.
When demand exceeds supply – as is happening increasingly in drier, eastern parts of New Zealand – competition for water is fierce. These demands also peak during summer, when the water level is generally at its lowest. Climate change makes management of water resources even more complicated, as rainfall and snowfall patterns vary.
The Ministry of the Environment recognises that management of fresh water needs to be improved. They state that the Resource Management Act is the primary means to ensure this happens. Yet, John Key’s government is weakening the RMA both the Labour and Green Parties have expressed serious concern at the way this will damage the environment and water supplies . In May, a Green Party Press Release said:
“National’s proposed changes weaken the RMA and are anti-environment,” Green Party environment spokesperson, Eugenie Sage said today.
… warning by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment that the changes would turn the RMA into an act which promoted economic development ahead of the environment.
“Part 2 of the RMA is the heart and engine room of the Act,” Ms Sage said.
“It defines sustainable management – meeting human needs while safeguarding the natural environment.
“National’s proposed changes to Part 2 of the RMA are about making it easier for mining, drilling and irrigation interests. They reflect the anti-environment thrust of the Government’s Business Growth Agenda with its focus on resource exploitation,” Ms Sage said.
“There is no substantive evidence that the RMA obstructs development.”
At an RMA seminar in May, Labour MP Maryan Street said:
Greetings to you all and thank you for coming to this Labour-hosted seminar, the first in a series of three which I am hosting over the next few months. The second will be held in July in Christchurch and will focus on the vexed issue of water quality and management. The third will be in Auckland in August and will consider the built environment.
This seminar has focussed on the concerted agenda which the government has to make protection of the environment second to economic development. They talk about balancing the economy and the environment. In my view, that is now an anachronistic way of looking at the New Zealand situation.
Of concern also is the way Key’s government, is trying to over-ride local council plans in conjunction with their weakening of the RMA. Greg Presland of Waitakere West has expressed concern over the way Nick Smith has engaged in the Government-Auckland Council “accord” in bad faith, while weakening environmental protections.
I have mixed feelings about a private business, like Opus, being one of the ways expertise is being provided to tackle growing pressures on the water supply. I guess it depends on how they operate, and to what extent they are driven by the profit motive. I’m also not keen on the emphasis Maryan Street puts on economic growth, rather than on a sustainable economy. However, I am pleased to see that both the Green and Labour Parties are working on this issue, critiquing the regressive RMA changes, and developing alternative, more environment friendly policies.