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Welcome to the future – Popular swimming spot dries up

Welcome to the future – Popular family swimming spot dries up

February 24 2017


It is with much sadness that Fish & Game announces that the Selwyn River at Coes Ford, has completely dried up.

With no water flowing and a couple of algae covered ponds, for all practical purposes the river has gone.

The day after the Government announces new water quality standards for rivers, standards ironically the Selwyn River would not be judged by because it is not deeper than 40 cm at Coes Ford.

With no water in the Selwyn River it would not be covered by the Government’s criteria.

The site, once a popular spot for Canterbury families seeking somewhere to cool off on a hot dry day, has suffered from perilous flow levels for a number of months.

The water take restrictions meant to protect the river have not been effective at offsetting the effects of lowering winter recharge rates, and the evidence of widespread irrigation activity in the areas is still clearly evident.

What we are in-effect seeing is the proportion of irrigation take rising significantly relative to the natural level of rainfall recharge.

This is has made the Selwyn River far less resilient to traditional drought cycles.

While the Government concentrates on ecoli levels, it seems to be ignoring the equally, if not more critical factor of water extraction and minimum flows.

All of which has compounded this year to turn the Selwyn River into a poster child for what is wrong when a river is not managed properly.

Earlier this summer the river the low flows and high nutrient levels contributed to toxic algae warnings when the algae phormidium was discovered at the ford.

Downstream the river’s problems are more dramatically visible with the river turning phosphorescent green at the Upper Selwyn Huts.

Local families have had to drive over 20 kilometres to Rolleston to go swimming in a council pool instead of the river at their front door.

The river, which is considered ephemeral, normally resurfaces from the shingle a few kilometres upstream of Chamberlin’s Ford, and because of this downstream at Coes Ford normally has a consistent flow of cool water.

Generations of Cantabrians have been able to relax at the popular swimming spot in the past.

The river also used to hold impressive numbers of trout, being viewed in the past as one of New Zealand’s best trout fisheries.

In the 1960’s a trout trap at Coes Ford would record numbers of returning spawning trout in numbers up to 14000 fish.

Currently returning spawning fish would be measured in the dozens not thousands.

Whilst the river has been known to dry up at Coes Ford on two previous occasions, it hasn’t done so since 1935 when a prolonged drought lasting over five years caused issues with even the Waimakariri River drying up at the gorge.

North Canterbury Fish & Game General Manager Rod Cullinane says “the Selwyn River drying up is a glaring illustration of what happens when the Government fails to listen to community concerns. Shifting the goalposts won’t help when once popular swimming spots have no water!”


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