Selwyn River update

Greetings All

I was invited by the 7 Rivers Project group to speak to those who assembled (and on camera) at Coe’s Ford before their hikoi along the Selwyn’s empty river bed. I instead nominated Alan Strong. He is from a family who have had a crib in the Selwyn Huts “for ever”. He is an engineer and recently co-opted F&G Councillor. His life time of history on that river was ammunition enough to counter the party line, and some deliberate mis-information, from Fed Farmers and ECAN.

He delivered what I had hoped Colin could do when I asked him earlier, as Colin also had a history on the river; unlike me.

The plight of the Selwyn River has captured the public’s (and the news media’s) attention. It is the end point toward which every river in Aotearoa is heading unless things change drastically – see the article posted by Ian today.

This hikoi was followed by a public meeting at Lincoln. 150 attended, F&G councillors, farmers, environmental group reps, locals, etc, but no visible reporters, Alan was on the panel and was again impressive. Sadly the meeting did not pass a resolution but the sentiment was very strong about the loss of a river. 

There are different ways to skin a cat and Alan has summarized these in the attached paper. Even if the Selwyn River means nothing to you it could be the “Sharpville massacre” equivalent in the public’s fight/crusade to regain our rivers.

I am still active in trying to get a Chch Eco-hub established. It has real potential to put pressure on politicians, local and national, to wake up over water issues.

As the chair on One Voice Te Reo Kotahi (OVTRK = 140 small NGOs and community groups) I get regular meetings, at least quarterly, with local senior staff of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, ECAN, all three local Councils, the Urban Development Strategy group, CDHB and Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu. Although we primarily facilitate communication between these organizations and the 140 groups on our register the organizing group members are able to raise water issues every single time. It is part of a squeaky wheel gets oiled approach.

We cannot count on a revolution and, as yet, we have no guarantee that a change of government will solve our issues. Many of these issues developed under the last Green/Labour/NZ First administration..

As they say in Thailand. The only way to eat an elephant is one mouthful at a time.

Reflect on Alan Strong’s paper and consider whether in is happening in a river near you!


  • The paper sets out some of the main impacts on the lake as of last year. The main lake issue is the lack of in-flow (ditto for spawning). This leads to a lack of “flushing” of the lake and a build up of a fairly toxic mix of phosphates and nitrates; toxic that is to all but the lethal algal blooms. Of particular significance is the lake level. I have an article coming up in the next NZFFA newsletter on the Canterbury situation in terms of river, and the lake, volumes. On the date that I researched the volumes the mean lake level was just 0.52m. Remember this is NZ’s 5th largest lake!!!!

  • The sea-run browns are in dire straits. F&G closed sea-run winter fishing last season, and next, in order to assist them to recover.

  • The eel numbers are just a fraction of what they were but over-fishing has also contributed to this. The eels were sent off to Holland and Germany willy nilly and, of course they were free to the harvesting folk, just like our water is to the bottlers. I have/had photos taken in 1971 of the night time migration over the bar at Taumutu at full moon in Feb and March – a hundred thousand a night – but that is just a memory. After the Selwyn, Irwell etc dried up so did their habitat. The lake was just a gathering place prior to migration. There is a wonderful old movie available through the National Film library (hopefully on disc now) called “Eel history was a mystery”. It shows the eel harvesting at Birdling’s Flat in the 1930s and 40s. What I saw at Taumutu in the 70s was similar.

  • Yes!! We are heading the same way as the USA. The Grand Canyon was carved out by the mighty Colorado River. It has ceased however to reach the sea for over 20 years in recent times as the result of over exploitation for irrigation. At least the US Federal government stopped funding irrigation projects in the 1970s.

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