Walking to raise issue of water quality

Lance Talstra (left) chats to River of Life Project co-ordinator Mark Gibson, during a walk through red zone land along the Avon River in Christchurch. Photo by David Hill
Lance Talstra (left) chats to River of Life Project co-ordinator Mark Gibson, during a walk through red zone land along the Avon River in Christchurch. Photo by David Hill

A Bay of Plenty schoolteacher was fed up with politicians setting the agenda on the water quality debate, so he decided to go out and speak to ordinary New Zealanders.

Lance Talstra left Cape Reinga on October 1 last year on a six-month ''Walk for Water Quality'', walking the length of New Zealand following the Te Araroa Trail.

His mission, to see for himself what was happening to New Zealand's environment and to speak to farmers, environmentalists, scientists, politicians, journalists and anyone else concerned with water quality.

''It goes back to John Key's 100% Pure New Zealand interview on the BBC.

''He was totally dismissive of Dr Mike Joy's findings. He was dismissive of science, so I decided to take action,'' Mr Talstra said.

The 2.04m tall walker said he had received a mostly positive response from the people he had met along the journey.

''Most people are genuinely concerned about the state of water quality.

''I've had a couple of guys say `it's all a big beat-up' or `it's not worth worrying about'. But, by and large, most people have been concerned.

''They don't always have a good understanding of the issues, but what they want is fresh water to drink, to be able to fish and to swim in our rivers, and I think that's pretty fair.''

Along the journey, Mr Talstra has met Massey University scientist Dr Mike Joy, but Prime Minister John Key has declined his invitation to meet, so far.

He has also called on economist Gareth Morgan and Federated Farmers chief executive Conor English.

''He was a good guy [English]. I didn't agree with everything he said, but he did say farmers were aware of the issues and he opened his door to this strange-looking guy with a backpack.''

Mr Talstra had visited farms to see first hand what farmers were doing to improve water quality, including Northland farmers Dave and Louise Wilson.

''I am fairly sure they had a suspicion that I might be some sort of crackpot, but I think in the end they realised that I was more interested in promoting the proactive approach that they are taking on their farm, rather than slagging off farmers for being polluting miscreants.''

Mr Talstra wrote in his blog at http://walkforwaterquality.blogspot.co.nz/.

Mr Talstra has been posting regularly on his Facebook page ''Walk for Water Quality'' and now has more than 500 likes.

He spent the weekend of March 7-9 in Christchurch and joined members of the River of Life Project, a Methodist Church-based environmental initiative, for a short stroll through red-zoned land along the Avon River.

During the stroll, Mr Talstra collected a sample of water in preparation for a press conference the next day with Green MP Eugenie Sage.

Mr Talstra said he promised his partner, Edwina Heath, he would be home in time for her birthday on April 20, so he was on a tight schedule to complete his journey to Bluff in time.

''I've been back home a couple of times. Six months away from home, probably wouldn't be on,'' said the stepfather of two children.

- by David Hill