Today’s blog I want to chat about one of the most important commodities that we have on this earth, and if we didn’t have it nothing would survive.
This beautiful resource that we in our country can access just by turning a tap, whereas in some countries people trek for miles to collect, is water. We here in New Zealand are rated 10th in the world for clean tap water; and environmentally we do have the clearest lake in the World. The Blue Lake, found in Nelson Lakes National Park, it is relatively small but it is the clearest in the world, with its visibility being up to 80 meters. Now that’s impressive.
As I was thinking on writing this blog I was thinking I don’t believe that we have a single item on this planet that doesn’t require water, and this includes our technology. I looked at national geographic who say that nearly 70% of the world is covered by water, but only 2.5% of it is fresh. The rest is saline and ocean-based. Even then, just 1% of our freshwater is easily accessible, with much of it trapped in glaciers and snowfields. In essence, only 0.007% of the planet’s water is available to fuel and feed its 6.8 billion people.
According to the United Nations, water use has grown at more than twice the rate of population increase in the last century. By 2025, an estimated 1.8 billion people will live in areas plagued by water scarcity, with two-thirds of the world’s population living in water-stressed regions as a result of use, growth, and climate change.
New Zealand is not going to be unaffected by this. According to the ministry of environment the national weekly water allocation for irrigation, households, manufacturing and other uses nearly doubled between 1999 and 2010 and our river water quality is declining. Over the last 20 years we have seen intensification of pastoral farming, conversion of dry stock farmland to dairy farming, particularly in Waikato, Southland, and Canterbury. In Waikato between 92 and 2002 dairy farming increased by 37% and nitrogen levels in the region’s streams increased by 40% with phosphorus levels rising by 25%.
Why is this a problem? Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in water causes algae to grow faster than our ecosystems can handle. Significant increases in algae harm water quality, food resources and habitats, and decrease the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive. Large growths of algae are called algal blooms and they can severely reduce or eliminate oxygen in water, leading to illnesses and death of large numbers of fish. Some algal blooms are harmful to humans because they produce elevated toxins and bacterial growth (E. coli bacteria) that can make people sick if they come into contact with polluted water, consume tainted fish or shellfish, or drink contaminated water.
Our most heavily polluted rivers are mostly in dairying areas, which comes as no surprise as the number of dairy cows on New Zealand farms has risen by 85% since 1990 and is still growing as we continue to convert massive amounts of dry farm land and pull out forest to convert into dairy farms.
Admittedly there has been some action against all the forest to diary conversions which has actually caused some large organizations to consider the environmental impact and back down on what they were planning to do. And although our river quality has reduced and the rivers are nothing like they were when I was a child to swim in, there are some great initiatives out there for farmers one is called carbon farming and the other is biological farmers both have climate change at their core with a focus on reducing the amount of fertilizers and restoring soil health and water quality. And the general public can get behind some fantastic projects to help clean up our waterways.
So my hope is for New Zealand to become a cutting edge leading innovator in the way we farm, with New Zealand’s environment and quality of water being at the core of all farm operators and communities within New Zealand. I hope we stop taking for granted this amazing resource that we have and start being active and appreciating our amazing mountains, glaciers, rivers, streams, oceans and eco-systems that are rare and unique to New Zealand.