Two rivers’ fates diverge
There is nothing quite like the sensory experience of plunging into our local river on a scorching Central Otago afternoon.
Once your body adjusts to the shock of the cool water it is a delight to float downstream on your back, catching glimpses of an intense blue sky through the willow leaves overhead.
Roll over, open your eyes and you can see the river stones on the bottom slide past in the clear water.
Our local swimming hole is on the Fraser River.
Its source is 1600m up on the Old Range/Kopuwai.
It tumbles down a steep gorge passing through the turbines of two power schemes, before some of its water helps nourish the orchards and vineyards of the Earnscleugh flats.
Eventually, it contributes to the waters of the mighty Clutha/Mata Au.
Twenty years ago the Earnscleugh Irrigation Co began supplementing its summer flow with waters from Lake Dunstan to maintain a healthy, life-sustaining river through even the driest summers.
The company recently released a plan to enhance the river as a public recreation asset with riverside planting and tracks and is seeking funding and public support to make its vision a reality.
When I swim in the Fraser it reminds me of my first river swims as a child in the cool, clear water of Coes Ford on the Selwyn River in Canterbury.
These days the Selwyn at Coes Ford dries to a trickle in the summer, its bed is weed infested, it is classified as unsuitable for swimming in the summer and only a few kilometres downstream it flows into one of the most polluted bodies of water in the country, Lake Ellesmere/Te Waihora, where contact with the water is not recommended.
Sadly, the Selwyn is one of the 60% of our rivers that carry pollution above acceptable levels.
Eighty percent of New Zealanders have indicated, through public opinion polls, that they are very concerned about the national decline in freshwater quality.
There is a public expectation that the agencies charged with the management of our fresh water urgently get on with addressing the problem.
On a local level, river enhancement initiatives like that on the Fraser River provide us with an opportunity to help ensure our precious freshwater resource is protected and enhanced for future generations.