New Zealand Water is Everyone’s Concern

Analysis from an expert

By Roger Childs (Photos by Bill Benfield)

Bill Benfield is one of New Zealand’s most perceptive and knowledgeable commentators on environmental issues. He should be a regular columnist in the mainstream media along with the likes of Joe Bennett, Dave Armstrong and Jane Bowron. Sadly the politically correct papers and magazines don’t approve of many of Bill’s well researched views, and stick with the safe, and sometimes superficial, columns of people like Bob Brockie.

Many readers will know Bill’s excellent history of environmental degradation in New Zealand: The Third Wave: Poisoning the Land.

This time, in Water Quality and Ownership, Bill has focused his extensive knowledge, varied lifetime experience and formidable research skills on the many facets of the decline and exploitation of the country’s water resources.

Disturbing changes to our rivers

We are all aware of the fact that you can’t drink from or swim in our rivers. Sadly, there was time, many of us can remember, when we could. Pollution from farming, forestry and urban waste has put paid to that by making a sorry mess of our waterways.

Less well known in the decline of our rivers, is the connivance of government and councils in allowing farmers to encroach on the river banks which were once public land.

Other disturbing developments are the fencing off of access to rivers and the appalling cross-blading of river beds to narrow channels and in theory, protect farmers from flooding. This process, along with excessive use of water for irrigation, has in fact lessened the quantity as well as the quality of water flowing from mountains and hills to the sea.

Disastrous cross-blading

Needless to say, there are less fish in the rivers and fewer birds along the banks.

These are just some of the topics Bill Benfield addresses in a series of concise, well targeted and highly topical essays which make up Water Quality and Ownership. Bill is never one to mince matters and with copious, well researched evidence he highlights the processes causing the problems and points the finger directly at the perpetrators.

While the focus is on the manifold problems facing our waterways, their quality and usage, Bill does suggest ways in which matters can be alleviated. The point of no return may have been reached in some areas, however there is still time, if there is the will, to start turning things around.

Ownership and exploitation

A lot less water than there used to be

In addition to covering the many issues of stream and river degradation, Bill also touches on aspects of exploitation and ownership which are major concerns for all New Zealanders:

  • foreign companies bottling our water and paying little
  • ludicrous iwi claims to ownership and control
  • government inaction on regulating how water is used and getting serious on amelioration.

In less than 100 pages Bill Benfield expertly analyses the full gamut of problems which are affecting our precious water resource and comes up with ways of turning things around. However, the clock is ticking and it is time for government, councils, farmers and foresters  to unite in cleaning up our waterways.

Readers would appreciate a more detailed index, and a location map(s) of the key rivers mentioned would be useful in later reprints.

Water Quality and Ownership should be widely read as the issues affect everyone and are too important to ignore.


(Water, Quality and Ownership by W F Benfield, is available for $20 at Paper Plus, Coastlands (and Levin) or direct from the publisher: Tross Publishing,