Anne Salmond: NZ can’t ignore water warnings

“While the government cites William Blackstone (an early authority on English common law) to the effect that “no one owns the water”, Blackstone was equally adamant that no water user has the right to pollute, foul, corrupt or divert and stop waterways in ways that deprive others of their “lawful enjoyment”. This might be news to many dairy farmers, foresters and developers in New Zealand.”

University of Auckland’s Distinguished Professor Dame Anne Salmond responds to the OECD’s report on New Zealand’s environmental performance with suggestions on how the fresh water crisis might be tackled

The OECD’s report on New Zealand’s environmental performance is crystal clear. New Zealand’s 100% Pure reputation is at immediate risk from the degradation of many New Zealand lakes and rivers. International media, buyers of New Zealand products, tourism interests and public opinion polls have all been ringing alarm bells, and now the OECD itself has joined the uproar.

As the report notes, “fresh water is a fundamental asset underpinning New Zealand’s economy”, in primary production as well as tourism and many other industries.

While leaders in national and local government and primary production have tried to shut down freshwater scientists and others warning about the damage to New Zealand’s waterways, they can’t ignore this message from the international community. Decisive action to enhance the state of many springs, streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, groundwater and aquifers across the country must be taken.

Although much was hoped from the Land and Water Forum, which for almost a decade has brought key stakeholders together to agree on ways of taking care of New Zealand’s water courses, the government has not listened to most of the Forum’s recommendations. At the regional level, too, collaborative processes have often been hijacked by powerful commercial interests.

In addition, iwi claims to proprietary interests in ancestral waterways have been upheld by the Waitangi Tribunal. In response, the government has argued that “no one owns the water”. Conversations between the government and iwi leaders about this are conducted in private, despite acute public interest in how fresh water in New Zealand should be managed.

The OECD recognises that iwi interests in waterways have to be resolved if freshwater management in New Zealand is to move ahead. The report highlights the need for the application of national standards at the catchment level to be independently monitored. It also notes that charging for the commercial use of fresh water and polluter pays charges might be considered.

Sir Eddie Durie and the New Zealand Māori Council have suggested that in order to bring greater consistency to the management of waterways across the country, and to recognise iwi interests in fresh water, an independent Waterways Commission might be established. If closely linked with the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, this would have a number of advantages.

If charging for the commercial use of fresh water is introduced, it is imperative that this income flow is not privatised. All New Zealand citizens have a stake in the country’s waterways, and if water charges are introduced, this funding should be dedicated to improving fresh water quality for the benefit of all, including iwi projects to enhance ancestral waterways, as in Te Awa Tupua (Whanganui River Claims Settlement) Act.

The visionary recognition in Te Awa Tupua Act of the rights of waterways themselves could be extended to other waterways. Rivers, springs, streams, wetlands and lakes existed long before people arrived in New Zealand, and as both the Whanganui people and the OECD recognise, human beings depend on freshwater ecosystems for our health, prosperity and survival, as much as the other way around.

While the government cites William Blackstone (an early authority on English common law) to the effect that “no one owns the water”, Blackstone was equally adamant that no water user has the right to pollute, foul, corrupt or divert and stop waterways in ways that deprive others of their “lawful enjoyment”. This might be news to many dairy farmers, foresters and developers in New Zealand.

The legal rights of all citizens to enjoy waterways across New Zealand should underpin the work of a Waterways Commission. It is vital that the application of national standards for fresh water is nationally monitored by an independent body, to ensure that the management of waterways and any funding from water rights are not hijacked by private interests.

The OECD’s report is a call to action. Declining standards for fresh water in New Zealand must be decisively tackled. A Waterways Commission – one that is truly independent and well resourced, reconciles the rights and responsibilities of iwi with those of other citizens, and takes good care of our waterways – would bring urgency and national oversight to this task.

Dame Anne Salmond is the Patron of the Te Awaroa: 1000 Rivers project. She was the 2013 Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year.

Source: Anne Salmond: NZ can’t ignore water warnings

Your Toothpaste May Be Loaded With Tiny Plastic Beads That Never Go Away | Mother Jones

What’s the environmental impact of microbeads?

Microbeads are so small that they aren’t caught by most water treatment plants, so they wind up in lakes, streams, and oceans. According to a report by New York’s attorney general, as many as 19 tons of microbeads could be discharged into the state’s waterways each year. Assuming all Americans are dumping microbeads at that rate, 300 tons per year end up in US waterways.

The beads, which can resemble fish eggs, are mistaken for food and ingested by fish and other marine animals. The plastic also acts as a sponge for toxins, soaking up pesticides, phthalates, and heavy metals and carrying them through the food chain. Tuna and swordfish are turning up with microbeads in their stomachs.

What’s the health impact of microbeads?

The movement to ban microbeads has really gathered steam because of concerns about their effects on human health. In March 2014, dental hygienist and blogger Trish Walraven sounded the alarm with an article about how she was finding “bits of blue plastic in my patients’ mouths every single day.” The plastic, she wrote, came from Crest toothpaste, and it was getting stuck in patients’ gums. Now, dentists are concerned that the microbeads trap bacteria, possibly causing gingivitis. Procter and Gamble, which makes the toothpaste, insists that microbeads are safe, but has pledged to rid Crest products of plastic microbeads by next March.

There are other concerns about ingesting microbeads—both from using products like toothpaste and from eating fish containing the plastic bits. The Environmental Working Group notes that the plastics that make up some microbeads are suspected to be hormone disruptors, so “eating them at your fish fry would not only lend an unpleasant texture to your beer-battered fish but could also add an unhealthy dose of estrogen-mimicking chemicals.”

How do I tell if my products contain microbeads?

via Your Toothpaste May Be Loaded With Tiny Plastic Beads That Never Go Away | Mother Jones.