Healthy water and the next generation

Kelvin Nicolle hands a water sample to Rolleston College student Brenda Pretorrus.
Kelvin Nicolle hands a water sample to Rolleston College student Brenda Pretorrus. PHOTO: GEOFF SLOAN
One of the few remaining water education programmes in the country is focusing on teaching the next generation about the importance of our aquatic ecosystems and waterways. Sophie Cornish finds out more

Donned in oversized waders and armed with nets and enthusiasm, a group of students stormed off the shingle bank and splashed into Selwyn River.

The aquatic insects below the surface stood little chance.

After disturbing their habitat only slightly by swishing around in their gumboots, the group of year 9s scooped up water and debris from below the surface.

It wasn’t until they got out of the river and tipped their buckets into a specimen tray that they found all the live macro-invertebrates including worms, larvae and nymphs, they had collected.

Having an aquatic life present is a good sign of the river’s water condition, chairman of the Waterwatch Education Trust, Kelvin Nicolle said.

The group then inspected and identified each insect before returning it to the river.

The class visit on Monday was one of three from Rolleston College, who along with hundreds of other students, have determined the ‘health’ of their local waterways, as part of the Trust’s environmental outreach programme.

Rolleston College students Roman Keno and Mitchell Nunan. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Rolleston College students Roman Keno and Mitchell Nunan. Photo: Geoff Sloan
A growing focus nationally on the controversial state of our water meant the students were already clued up on current issues, including increasing nitrate concentration levels.

High nitrate levels pose a health risk, ECan chief scientist Tim Davie said, which includes blue baby syndrome, which affects newborns, and a potential for an increase of colorectal cancer.

Year 9 student, Isabella McConaghty believes all young people should learn about the importance of having clean water.

“There could be lots of kids our age or even younger coming up with ideas to fix it. So I think it’s important.

The biggest concern is that we won’t have any more sources of fresh water. We’ll have to put it through machines and cause more chemicals to get in the water,” she said.

Her classmate, Tyler McLaughlan, is also concerned about the future of our water and the increasing pollutants getting in it.

“Our drinking water is my main concern. Water helps us, animals, pretty much everything, survive,” he said.

Each year, thousands of science, biology and geography students ranging from year 7 to year 13 learn about various water environments through the programme, along with community groups, university students and teachers studying agriculture, horticulture and agribusiness.

The class begins with the students being split into groups, with one person collecting a sample of water from the river.

Next, several experiments take place using a variety of scientific equipment to determine the chemical make-up of the water, including temperature, oxygen, nitrate and phosphate levels.

Physical parameters of the water’s profile such as streamflow, turbidity, temperature and GPS location data is also collected.

Rolleston College student Ben Bowen. Photo: Geoff Sloan
Rolleston College student Ben Bowen. Photo: Geoff Sloan
After this, the fun part begins, with the students suiting up in waders and trudging into the river to collect their samples of the aquatic insects.

The trust’s educators travel across the region, with schools examining their local streams, rivers, ponds and lakes.

The programme was established more than 20 years ago and up until April 2017, was run by Lincoln University.

Now a charitable trust, it is funded mainly by grants from the Rata Foundation and is delivered free of charge, in spite of receiving only about $25,000 funding annually.

Trust treasurer and educator, Erroll Wood, said the educators are mainly retirees who volunteer their time, driven by their passion for water education.

Up until recently, the programme was one of several nationwide, but most have now ceased, in spite of the growing focus on water issues.

“It’s important to educate the next generation about current and future challenges to our water quality and availability. We want students to be learning about the environment, in the environment; not as spectators but as active participants,” Mr Nicolle said.

Figures on nitrate concentrations in the Selwyn district’s water is continuing to increase, in spite of limits being put in place to try to reduce the issue.

Chemical testing results show the nitrate levels have increased more than half of the tested water schemes over the last two years.

Dunsandel, Rolleston, Kirwee, Lincoln, Darfield, Southbridge, Sheffield, Glentunnel, West Melton, Springston and Springfield water sources all have increased concentrations, some of which are more than twice the 2017 levels.

An Environment Canterbury spokesman said the increases have come from the intensification of farming.

“The 1990s is the latest phase of intensification, but concentrations were already increasing earlier than that, as fertiliser application and stocking rates increased. By the 1970s, nitrate concentrations were well above natural levels.

“The increases have been greatest in areas where the groundwater comes predominantly from rainfall that percolates through soil. This includes the Selwyn-Waihora zone. The rainwater leaches nitrate from the soil and carries it from the land surface into groundwater,” said the ECan spokesman.

– Additional reporting, Devon Bolger



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