Wetlands day nothing to celebrate | The Jackal

2 Feb 2012

Wetlands day nothing to celebrate

Today marks the 41 anniversary of the Ramsar Convention, which is designed to raise public awareness and safeguard what wetlands remain. It's also meant to protect the environmental, economic, cultural, scientific, and recreational value of wetlands.

The convention covers marshes, fens, peatlands or water, whether natural or artificial, permanent or temporary, with water that is static or flowing, fresh, brackish or salt, including areas of marine water the depth of which at low tide does not exceed six metres.

Yesterday, Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson said:

“As a Cantabrian I’m well aware of the importance of clean natural waterways and the role wetlands play in reducing floods, recharging groundwater, purifying water or augmenting flows,” says Ms Wilkinson.

“Wetlands also support the greatest concentrations of bird life of any New Zealand habitat and support far more species than a comparable forest. Numerous threatened species – such as the Australasian bittern, brown teal, fernbird, marsh crake, white heron, and native fish – rely on New Zealand’s remnant wetlands for their survival.”

While wetlands are always in the natural process of evolving towards dry land, introduction of invasive plants and land development has resulted in New Zealand losing some 90% of its natural wetland cover.

“For decades now, Fish & Game NZ and hunters have been working in good faith with landowners to claw back what’s been lost – the conservation gains they’ve achieved are highly commendable.”

Despite Wilkinson's rhetoric, in September last year the National party announced a $7.5 million cut in the Department of Conservations budget with 96 jobs to go. This will inevitably mean the agencies of government responsible for wetlands will be less effective at protecting the irreplaceable and internationally significant ecosystems, as well as the many of thousands of unique species they contain.

The National led government also plan to fund further intensive farm irrigation systems through various schemes like the Irrigation Acceleration Fund. But what is even more abhorrent is that the projected $400 cost of these schemes will be funded through the sale of our state-owned assets. National are also including much of our water resources as a going concern in the MOM sales.

Effectively National is selling our power companies along with the water resources they control so that a number of privately owned businesses can have unrestricted use. National do not plan to charge these companies appropriately either, so it's unlikely New Zealand as a whole will see any financial benefit.

This has all come about because Nick Smith and Rodney Hide set up a group of cronies in 2009 to look into ways of further water exploitation in the Canterbury region. They came back with the obvious conclusion; to adopt a business and not environmental model of water resource management.

National also helped set up the supposedly independent Land and Water Forum, that is predominated by business people with a vested interest, to promote the industrialisation of our water resources.

Idiot Savant at No Right Turn reports:

On the solutions front, they propose setting limits on water use and requiring regional councils to meet them. They suggest managing allocation by abandoning "first in, first served" in favour of rules in regional planning documents, and possibly a resource rental. They also want to see greater ability to transfer allocations, which points to a tradable permit system. While this is a good idea for managing a scarce resource if done properly, the two examples of such systems we have in New Zealand - the fisheries Quota Management System and the Emissions Trading Scheme - give me no confidence that that would happen. Both are over allocated, with the cap effectively set by politics rather than science. In the case of the ETS, we also have massive ongoing free allocations, which turn the scheme into a giant pollution subsidy. If that's how "cap and trade" works in New Zealand, then we should eschew such mechanisms in favour of a regulatory system combined with usage charges.

Oddly, they promote water storage schemes as having environmental benefits. But water storage is about increasing intensification, which increases pollution. Farmers want water storage schemes; the rest of us, who care about the environment, should oppose them.

In my opinion, the Land Water Forum is designed to gloss over the environmental damage that intensive irrigation systems cause... they simply ignore the fact that further intensive irrigation means even more ecological pressure will be placed on our already delicate wetland ecosystems. Like the National party, their modus operandi is to facilitate New Zealand’s vast water resources flowing into private hands.

This unbelievably stupid and economically ignorant plan will ensure that there's no proper remuneration for the use of our water resources and that areas most affected by the resulting increased pollution such as wetland will be even more degraded.

90% of New Zealand's low lying-waterways are already too polluted to swim in, which shows just how hollow Wilkinson's words really are.

The National Government pretends to care about the environment but have no real concern, as they believe there’s more money to be made through polluting enterprises. This means that in New Zealand, wetlands day is nothing to celebrate.