From our councillors: Engaging urban dwellers to improve water quality

City and town-dwellers must do more to help improve the region’s water quality, Environment Canterbury councillors Megan Hands and Nicole Marshall say.

Councillors Megan Hands and Nicole Marshall

Councillors Megan Hands and Nicole Marshall

If you have a broken pipe, you fix it first rather than stand around arguing who damaged it while it continues to leak.

When it comes to improving Canterbury’s water quality, we need to move away from the seemingly entrenched rural-urban mindset and as a community reconnect with our natural environment, and work to fix it.

With many of our rural neighbours now subject to rules that should see generational improvements in water quality, it is time for those of us in our urban communities to embark on the same journey.

Te Mana o Te Wai - Everything we do affects the natural environment

The Government’s recently announced freshwater reform package has at its core Te Mana o Te Wai, a concept recognising that the health of our communities relies on the health of the water, effectively putting the rivers and water first.

Everything we do affects the natural environment. It sustains us, feeds us, we breathe the air, we drink the water. But one of the key differences between rural and urban living is that, in the latter, most people are a step removed from their environmental impact.

Find out more about the freshwater reform package.

Urban and rural communities face same challenges

In urban areas, community infrastructure is provided by the territorial authority. Many have the mentality “I pay my rates and that’s done”, that someone else is responsible for ensuring I have drinkable water from my tap and that my waste is properly disposed of. But those in our rural communities, whose life is their work, are faced with the reality of their environmental footprint on a daily basis. The way in which we engage with our environment is different.

The Government’s reforms provide opportunity for us at Environment Canterbury to better improve state of our urban rivers and streams, to consider how to minimise and stop pollutants and sediment from clogging them up.

It is also a really good chance to engage those of us who live in cities and towns in improving waterways.

Keeping our stromwater clean

As well as the obvious issues with household detergents, paints and chemicals making their way into the stormwater system, there is also the threat of heavy metal contamination in waterways from copper brake pads and zinc roofing.

In the last 20 years, many have lost touch with their environment because life has become more focused on technology. But the redevelopment of central Christchurch, the Avon River loop being opened up, and the Heathcote River revitalisation have shown people are slowly being drawn back to their rivers.

Be a stromwater superhero - Find out how you can make a positive difference.

How you can make a difference

It would be really exciting to get our rivers back into the place in our hearts where they were generations ago. We want them to be the heart of Christchurch - beautiful clean waterways we want to see eels and trout swimming in, where we want to go for a paddle or maybe even jump in.

Ask “what can I do in my backyard that will help the person 10 doors down, three streets away, a suburb away?” Just because you don’t see the immediate benefit doesn’t mean there isn’t one. Even the smallest of actions can make a difference.

We see in our young people a real desire to engage with the natural environment and we need to harness that.

We have a really good head start due to the work that has already been done in Canterbury, and we are still going to be targeting those who are dragging the chain in the rural community, but we need to bring in our urban communities as well.

Perhaps in this new post-COVID world, where we are all stepping back a bit and thinking about things a little differently, we will create better opportunities for engaging more with the environment in which we live.

Report an environmental incident

If you see dirt or sediment leaving building sites and going onto footpaths or roads phone Environment Canterbury on 0800 765 588 (24/7) or report using the Snap, Send, Solve app.

*Cllr Megan Hands and Nicole Marshall are water and environmental scientists and members of Canterbury Water Management Strategy zone committees. Find out more about Megan Hands and Nicole Marshall.
*Photo credit: Ian Fox