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Science Deadline: Water royalties, seabed mining, Kauri

Science Deadline: Water royalties, seabed mining, Kauri dieback and politicians talking science

Fresh water policies abound
National and Labour touted their fresh water policies this week, with Jacinda Adern's announcement to charge farmers and water bottlers a royalty making the biggest splash.

On Tuesday, National announced that 100 rivers and lakes across NZ would receive $44 million in grants to help improve the water quality. This is not new funding, but rather the first allocation of some of the $100m Freshwater Improvement Fund announced last year. The projects include a large dam, new wetlands, native plantings and fencing.

Prof Russell Death, a freshwater ecologist at Massey Univesity, told RNZ that much of the money was going towards riparian planting, and while this keeps the phosphorous out of our rivers, "it won't stop the nitrate getting in" which is a bigger problem in our waterways.

At the Environmental Defence Society conference on Wednesday, Jacinda Adern announced a new Labour policy to charge water bottling companies and irrigation users a royalty which would be returned to regional councils to clean up New Zealand’s waterways.

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At the conference, she said: "Labour will work with iwi to resolve Treaty water claims in a manner that respects iwi's mana, and restores the mauri of our rivers and lakes," a sentiment that has been welcomed by Māori involved in freshwater disputes.

Labour’s announcement spurred a flurry of press releases from various interest groups. Horticulture NZ chief executive Mike Chapman told RNZ that this would "make healthy food more expensive" and Federated Farmers water spokesman Chris Allen said the policy needed to be fair and "not just attack farmers."

Water NZ CEO John Pfalhert took issue with the idea that the policy assumed that ‘water ownership’ had been sorted out and didn't approve of singling out specific consumers. He told Ali Mau on Radio Live: “They’re only going to attach it to two classes of people: farmers and water bottlers, but not to industrial users or residential consumers.”

On Friday, RNZ reported that huge multinational bottling companies, including Coca-Cola, would be exempt from the policy because of a technicality. This is because any companies who get their water from a city or district council water system would be exempt, and the companies would only be charged for infrastructure, not water.

Labour's David Parker responded that the policy was aimed at those making profits with water extracted from a river or aquifer, not town supplies.

Quoted: NZ Herald
"At two years there was no relationship between blood sugar levels and later brain development, but at age 4.5 years, it's clear that the children who experienced low blood sugar levels were more likely to have specific difficulties."

Liggins Institute's Prof Jane Harding
on her research on children with hypoglycaemia

Kauri dieback in Waitakeres
Auckland Council released a report on Wednesday stating that infection rates of kauri with dieback disease in the Waitakere Ranges Regional Park have more than doubled in the last five years.

The report shows that the number of kauri within the park has risen from 7.9% in 2011 to 19.0% infected in 2016, and has had some calling for the park to close to the public to prevent the disease from spreading further.
Bruce Burns, senior lecturer in plant ecology at the University of Auckland, told RNZ's morning report: "The report is a wake-up call for what's happening with kauri dieback in the Ranges. The management strategy to date has been about containment and obviously we haven't been able to contain the disease."
Dr Nick Waipara, Principal Advisor for Biosecurity at Auckland Council who co-wrote the report, said they were "heartbroken" about the spread of the disease and that "almost 70% of the distribution in the park is within 50m of a track."

"Most of this spread is from non-compliance — we know this from surveillance footage, track counters and staff. People aren't using the spray-stations, they're breaching closed areas and continuing to use closed tracks. By doing that, they are introducing the pathogen into areas where it wouldn't have been introduced if they'd stayed out."

In the Auckland Council press release, Te Kawerau a Maki Executive Chair, Te Warena Taua suggested that "a rahui, restricting access, may prevent further spread of this disease and, over time, allow the forest to heal itself."

There have been some successes using the horticultural chemical phosphite to halt the spread of the disease, but it doesn't kill the pathogen directly, instead it works by boosting the plant’s own natural defences.

Ian Horner from Plant and Food Research who led a five-year trial of phosphite told RNZ: “we're still not certain about what is the correct dosage to use, and that's what this second round of trials is about. We don't want to end up with people killing trees by having the dose wrong.”
Dr Cate Mcinnis-Ng, a plant ecologist at the University of Auckland, told the Science Media Centre: "There is never going to be a quick-fix for kauri dieback... even if we found a cure tomorrow (highly unlikely), these trees will not be replaced in our life time."
Until we find a cure, she says: "people need to clean, clean, clean and stick to the tracks."
The SMC gathered expert reaction on the report and the current state of dieback prevention research.

Policy news & developments

Changes to cannabidiol regulation: From September, cannabidiol will no longer subject to a range of conditions that other controlled drugs are required to adhere to.

Freshwater improvement projects: 100 rivers and lakes across New Zealand have been allocated grants of $44 million from the Government

Pregnancy smoking rate drops: The latest report on maternity shows a continued downward trend in the percentage of pregnant women smoking.

Updated REANNZ investment: A new investment of $21 million over seven years for the Research Education and Advanced Network New Zealand will help researchers collaborate over long distances.

ED champions Dr Peter Jones and Carol Limber have been appointed as target champions for the Shorter Stays in Emergency Departments (ED) goal to further improve the flow of patients.

Freshwater policy: Environment Minister Nick Smith has released a new national policy statement on freshwater management.

Low emissions economy: The Productivity Commission has published an issues paper for its inquiry into transitioning to a low emissions economy

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