How lucky it was that an aerial image similar to this one took out the supreme accolade of Digital Globe’s “Top Image Of 2011“. Why lucky? Quite simply there is every likelihood that the river is going to become less and less of its former majestic self due to over-extraction of water for irrigation on the Canterbury Plains that it flows through. I hesitate to think exactly how majestic the river actually was in pre-European times, and particularly pre-farming times when all of the water that entered into the headwaters either as rain or as snow-melt actually reached the sea, but suffice it to say it would have carried vastly more than the 203 cumecs claimed in the picture’s blurb.
The Canterbury Plains are under intensive cropping and grazing, both of which require reliable water supply and as a consequence water rights have been granted that have not only lowered the mean flow of the river but also significantly affected the underground aquifers, both effects permanent if the farming is to continue. To add to the problem a number of farmers are choosing to convert from their current production to dairying due to the greater financial returns they are able to achieve, and dairy farming is a thirstier land-use.
What has also been alarming is that as part of their election promises our National Government promised $1b of asset sales money was being tagged for Canterbury irrigation. Anybody who thinks a billion dollars isn’t going to mean even less water in these beautiful braided rivers is, quite frankly deluding themselves.
I wonder whether the public who chose this picture as “the best” would have done so if they knew a bit more about the circumstances the river finds itself in. Personally I couldn’t, in good conscience choose such a picture almost irrespective of how good I thought the picture was. It annoys me somewhat, having read some of the comments that people have posted to the image that all they are considering is how the picture looks rather than what it is and whether there are underlying issues. If this post strikes a chord with you, please go to the website below and have your say.