Our rivers: reflecting on the past


Earlier this evening I got a call out of the blue from a nice young reporter from Newshub, keen to interview me for their morning show on the issue of fresh water. I say 'out of the blue', but it seems there had been a media release about a lecture I am doing tomorrow night about the environmental history of rivers at the University of Canterbury [link here].

Anyway, against my better judgement, and somewhat reluctantly, I agreed to be interviewed. I was feeling a bit wary given how 'live' freshwater issues are at the moment, less than a week out from the election - on top of which I was utterly unprepared. So I wittered on semi-(I hope!) coherently to a series of questions, from which, potentially at least, one or two meaningful utterances may be able to be extracted. And as always with these things, it was only an hour or two after I finished the interview (as I was doing a bit of restorative yoga, as it happens), I thought, of course - why didn't I say that!!?

'That', in this case was to point out that one of the first causes of sustained pollution of our rivers and streams was from alluvial goldmining. Goldminers simply dumped their 'tailings' (waste rock and gravel, subsequently laced with cyanide for good measure) back into streams and rivers. And, who complained about the impact this had on water quality and the increased propensity of rivers to flood as a result, spreading silt onto the surrounding farmland? That's right - farmers. They wanted the pollution to stop, or failing that, they wanted to be compensated for the damage it caused to their livelihoods. And did the government listen? No, not at first. Why not? Because at the time, the government considered that goldmining was too valuable to the country's economy to impede by imposing any constraints, even if it meant continued damage to the environment or the livelihoods of others.

Sound familiar? Thought it might...

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