World-first for World Rivers Day
To mark World Rivers Day this week, regional councils are releasing their latest river data on the Land, Air, Water, Aotearoa (LAWA) website, a world first in reporting nation-wide water quality results in one place.
Fran Wilde, chair of Local Government New Zealand's regional sector group, said that having information on water quality freely available to the public in an easy to understand format was vital.
"The public debate shows that rivers are important to New Zealanders, and regional councils take their role in water stewardship very seriously.
"We developed LAWA to ensure that the public could access all the water quality results in one place. Working in partnership with the Ministry for the Environment and the Cawthron Institute as independent validators of the data, we hope LAWA will create greater understanding of the state of waterways and help people make good choices about how they use them."
World Rivers Day highlights the many values placed on rivers, and strives to increase public awareness and improved stewardship of rivers around the world.
From Sunday, visitors to LAWA will be able to access state and trend data from 2004 to 2013 for New Zealand rivers at a regional, catchment and site level.
Ms Wilde said that while the majority of the sites show no evidence of a trend, 17% of sites showed decreases in the levels of total nitrogen with increases observed at 22% of sites. Ms Wilde said the spotlight needed to remain on this indicator.
On the other hand, the most significant improvements were in levels of phosphorus, with 45% of sites showing total phosphorus has reduced and 41% showing a reduction in dissolved reactive phosphorus.
When phosphorus or nitrogen levels are too high, there is likely to be rapid weed growth or algal blooms which can choke aquatic life and cause long-term damage to the health of a waterbody.
Much of the phosphorus in our rivers is a result of erosion and fertiliser use. Other sources include dairy factories, freezing works and sewage treatment plants.
"Although there is obviously still much work to be done, the phosphorus trends are encouraging, reflecting hard work by local government, communities and land owners," Ms Wilde said.
Ms Wilde said a number of regional councils have reduced phosphorus entering rivers by working with landowners and the government to stabilise erodible land through tree planting or land retirement. Many wastewater treatment plants have also been upgraded by local councils, thereby reducing or removing phosphorus from their discharges.
"The Government has outlined its desire to see communities work with regional councils to determine the values they place on fresh water and formal processes to deliver this approach are underway in a number of regions," said Ms Wilde.
"However, the health of waterways is directly related to what happens on the land around them, how much water is taken out and what is put back in. To make decisions, communities need to understand what is happening and LAWA is designed to provide that information."
Ms Wilde said work is currently underway on other environmental indicators for LAWA, beginning with recreational beach monitoring which will be available on LAWA this summer.
The regional council information that is used on the LAWA website will also contribute to a new national environmental reporting regime being designed by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics New Zealand.
LAWA can be accessed on www.lawa.org.nz
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