REVIEWS: General Public

“Anyone with a gnats whisker of concern for our environment should track this movie down and go see it -”

“Thank-you for the wonderful film that is Seven Rivers Walking. My Mum and I saw this film at Alice Cinematheque on the weekend. It was very moving and a call to action for us both to do more for our environment.”

“Your documentary was amazing…to really hit home to me how much hard work there is to do and it has strengthened my resolve to do as much as we can in our park + the surrounding neighborhoods….”

“Really appreciated  the movie tonight.  We spent 13 years in Ashburton so have a soft spot for the farming world.  Dairying however has changed things. It is too easy for city folk to point the finger at farmers when we have real issues to face. ”

“I went to see the Seven Rivers Walking film on the weekend and was very moved by it and as a result am inspired to get more involved in advocating for, protecting and improving our waterways. In response to this film, I have subscribed to the Opawaho Heathcote River Network newsletter with the view to getting involved in OHRN activities, I have put some rocks in the open drain that runs through my property in an attempt to improve water quality and encourage life, I have subscribed to Forest and Bird for myself and my kids and I have started buying Nature Matters milk from XCHC in the basis that they are a low intensive farm with concern for the waterways.”
C. F. 

“Went to see this movie/documentary today. Very good. Thought provoking for all NZ’ers. A must see if you are able to go. ”

“This is local film-making to help us understand and care about the gift of fresh water and the future of our rivers. It is respectful of the all point of view and a good 85 minutes to think about how we can back out of the worst of the possible futures for our fresh water.”ALICE

“You and Kathleen definitely captured the depth of concern out there and provided the motivation to keep going.”

“I was greatly touched by the film last night. You and your fellow team have done an incredible job… I thought it particularly powerful by not drawing itself into the politics of this urgent issue – but simply showing us the reality of how it is.”

“…but just let me add ‘wow!’ So much gorgeous photography – all that amazing wildlife stuff, stunning underwater shots and the beautiful braids from the air – absolutely loved it – incredible job. And you packed So Much In!”

“Congratulations, your filming was amazing. Art with a message, a serious message! Hope our new politicians take note, do something positive, we ordinary folk can and must do our bit to protect our water systems.”

REVIEW: Mark Gibson, Tui Motu

Seven Rivers Walking – Haere Maarire Review


Directed by Gaylene Barnes and Kathleen Gallagher.

Reviewed by Mark Gibson

Seven Rivers Walking is a powerful expression of the collective sadness at the state of Canterbury’s waterways. From the first scene at the mouth of the Rakaia River it feels as if this is “our” movie. For 84 minutes Cantabrians tell their stories as they walk along the rivers during a Lenten pilgrimage, Walk for the Planet. They walked seven rivers over seven weeks and claimed their place as kaitiaki and guardians of those precious waterways and aquifiers.

When a speaker in the opening sequence says: “Our little voices just don’t carry very loud”, he is setting the flow for 70 Cantabrians to tell of their love of their rivers and their grief at what is happening to them. This is a movie about the “little voices”.

Their message is clear. A kind of mindless madness has taken over the Canterbury plains and it needs to end. Dairy intensification (“hydroponics on land” as one speaker describes it) is covering the plains and is pushing ever nearer to the headwaters of the great rivers. This revolution of land-use has been disastrous for the health of the land and the rivers because it is profoundly unsuited to the porous, gravel-laden soil of the Plains. Serious river and water quality degradation and biodiversity loss have been the result.

We hear from iwi, anglers, scientists, farmers, rafters, swimmers and trampers of the pain and folly of the harvest that doesn’t appear on balance sheets or economic forecasts. These people and their hopes and vision for the future represent the counter-revolution that is taking place.

The walk moves along the two main rivers of urban Christchurch also, showing how poor urban design is impacting their health and pointing to the changes needed to restore them.

Seven Rivers Walking is like a braided river itself. It comes from many directions, from exotic locations and from the high country to the middle of the city. There is criss-crossing from river to river and from voice to voice. Yet the movie is braided beautifully and underscored with an evocative sound track by local indigenous musicians. And because the blend of spoken and sung voices engages the heart, soul and head, the film moves us more deeply than political polemic.

This is a prophetic and powerful movie for these times when we are struggling to live in ways that honour and cherish our land and waterways and not destroy them.

Tui Motu Magazine. Issue 219, September 2017: 37.

PERSPECTIVE: By Gaylene Barnes, Filmmaker

By Gaylene Barnes, Director / Producer

Our film documents several dying rivers and we learn why this is happening. The film takes a broad and gentle hand to elucidate; we prioritise the communities most affected by it, those selfless souls who are working to restore health to their rivers.

It offers the potential to be “smaller, gentler and slower” in our moves upon the planet – rather than the modus operandi of “bigger, harder, faster”. And to have a profound sense of the diverse life that abounds in the waterways.

Our rivers and aquifers need urgent attention. I predict that in less than thirty years time our rivers will be lifeless, and our aquifers stuffed unless we make significant land-use changes now.

Sorry. Let me explain:

The film hears from scientists such as Tim Davies, chief scientist at Environment Canterbury, on the subject of nitrogen pollution: “Nitrates are toxic to fish, at levels that we do we find in these rivers.” We hear from Dr Graham Fenwick, an ecologist and crustacean systematist, on the subject of the tiny creatures that live in our aquifers and keep our water clean. He says “If the groundwater levels drop … then there is less oxygen, and it puts the whole ecosystem at risk.”

These two comments signify the two main problems degrading the life in our rivers, waterways and aquifers in Canterbury – nitrogen pollution and over-abstraction of water.

While we accept and understand the carbon crisis, we have little understood the nitrogen crisis on our hands‑—one which we can no longer deny. Man-made. Intensive-farming-made. We need to change our land-use practices. Immediately.

We need to get carbon back on the land, and find ways to get nitrogen back into the air, immediately. All our efforts must be towards this end – if we are to survive as a species.

Plants need nitrogen to grow—but the natural nitrogen fixing process(composting/nitrogen fixing plants) is not fast enough for industrial farming. So most farmers use synthetic nitrogen—urea— in vast quantities upon the land. Nitrogen levels on the land are now twice that found naturally. Globally. We have reached and blasted through the planetary boundaries of nitrogen loading on the land.

New Zealand is one of the worst offenders in the nitrogen crisis. Our synthetic fertiliser-use exceeds most OECD nations. In fact, according to World Bank data, we use similar amounts of fertilser as Bahrain—a desert, and Singapore—where it is mostly hydroponic farming.

According to World Bank data, we use comparable amounts of fertilser as Bahrain—a desert. SOURCE: World Bank

UREA is destructive in two ways – the excess nitrogen compounds wash easily through the environment, and into aquifers and rivers. But, more disastrously, urea has enabled the intensification of farming into drylands and deserts such as Te Pirita, Eyrewell, and the Mackenzie country (in combination with new irrigation).

The second reason is more devastating – because it is the stock that live on these hydroponically farmed marginal soils that contribute to the majority of nitrate poisoning of groundwater. Cow-piss primarily. Especially milking-cows, with their high-input protein diets, such as imported Palm Kernal Extract. They have urine that is heavily loaded with nitrogen.

A large portion of this is “lost below the root zone to waterways via leaching” according to DairyNZ.  A graph from DairyNZ shows this loss to be at least 30%.  Significantly more if the cattle are wintering on fodder-beet (see picture below). With no plants around to absorb these excess nitrates – the soluble nitrogen will continue it’s journey straight down into the aquifers and waterways.

Riparian strips or effluent ponds won’t make a difference when the dairy-cow is mostly standing on muddy gravel, in the rain.

Steers on a fodder-beet paddock at a Te Pirita dairy farm during winter rain = maximum leach. SOURCE: Gaylene Barnes

New Zealand is at high-risk of experiencing huge and extinction-level effects from this ‘cow-piss’ pollution. Of 175 monitored river sites in the pastoral class, nitrate-nitrogen trends were worsening at 61% of sites over the period 1994–2013. Of the native aquatic species the government reports on, around 75% of fish, one-third of invertebrates, and one-third of plants are threatened with, or at risk of, extinction.

New Zealand does not have a history of ruminant animals roaming our landscape. We are geologically young. Canterbury, in particular, is a bed of gravel from recently eroded mountains. Our native plants and fish are extremely sensitive to high nitrogen levels – they have evolved over millenia in a low-nitrogen environment.

Yet, we have allowed Waikato styled dairy-farming systems on our marginal Canterbury soils. We have also allowed a much higher dairy-cow stocking rate on our plains than in the Waikato. Many Canterbury farms are in fact owned by Waikato or North Island shareholders. Sipping their soy-milk latte on Waiheke Island, gazing at a spreadsheet.

In our film we looked at the effects of nitrogen pollution on our rivers – weedy waterways, toxic algae, death to native fish, loss of spawning grounds, loss of habitat for braided birds, increasing nitrate levels in drinking water – that sort of thing.

One of our characters states that they hate the term “nitrogen-loss.” He notes that “if it was a whole lot of paint factories in the upper Selwyn ‘losing’ paint into the waterways – they wouldn’t be calling it ‘paint-loss’ would they?”

What to do about it? Well, Environment Canterbury have proposed “nitrogen-loss” limits. And are forcing all farmers to apply for consent if their nitrogen loss levels are over a certain limit – usually about 15-20 kgN/ha/yr. All dairy-farms and most intensive farms are well over this limit.

ECan give them a “discretionary” consent. But they do not have to.

Selwyn folk rescuing fish from an algae infested river that is drying up. SOURCE: Gaylene Barnes

Lets look at an example of a local farm that has applied for consent to leach nitrates over the acceptable limit:

Purata Farms, with the motto “Farming for Tomorrow” is 99% owned by Chinese billionaire Zhaobai Jiang, who is neither a New Zealand resident nor a citizen. His company, Shanghai Pengxin, owns 4,000 hectares of Te Pirita gravel land, on the north side of the Rakaia river, marhinal land. Yet his managers are milking about 13,000+ cows for him. A very high stocking rate, that requires enormous inputs. They feed his cows PKE in the afternoons.

Mr Jiang is able to bunch all his nitrogen-loss limits together on his various pieces of land into one ‘baseline’ – which is sitting at about 57 kgN/ha/yr. Because millions of dollars had already been spent ‘developing’ the farm (putting in irrigators and milking sheds) before the limits were proposed —Mr Jiang is therefore considered a ‘grandfather’ and is allowed to keep leaching/ polluting at this higher limit, providing he implements ‘good management practice’ and starts reducing this limit over time.

I was advised by a Purata Farms employee to “not be focusing so much on the number as that principally is a guide.” I would absolutely agree with her. These nitrogen-loss limits are defined by a flawed modelling system called Overseer, designed by the synthetic fertiliser companies – an organic dairy-farmer we spoke to says “it’s like the alcoholics being in charge of the brewery.”

All the numbers / limits / figures plaguing our discussions on nitrogen limits are a nonsense in my opinion. This model does not truly reference the natural biological world.

This figure of 57kg/ha/yr seems ridiculously small compared to the actual tonnage of cow-piss applied on the land, every day. If cow-piss leaching is 30% of every 25 litres of urine, per cow, per day? Times X 13,000 cows on Purata Farms? You do the math. My own ‘cow-piss’ calculation puts it at 5.5 tonnes per year – from just one farm?

Mr Jiang’s milking-cows are polluting tonnes of nitrates below the root zone, on marginal soils, which are being washed straight down into the groundwater, and then flowing on into the spring-fed streams and Te Waihora Lake Ellesmere.

In all of Canterbury there are 1.2 million milking-cows, plus several hundred thousand more cattle. This equates to many millions of litres of urinary-N being ‘lost’ every day into our aquifers and waterways. What we are seeing now is only the beginning – it can take years for nitrogen-nitrates to leach through the groundwater system.

Remember, nitrates are toxic to fish and invertebrates living in our rivers and aquifers. They are also toxic to drink at certain levels. It may be your children and your grandchildren who will be drinking cow-piss. Thanks Grandfather Jiang.

The Rakaia river delta. SOURCE: Dave Perry

The second major issue our rivers are facing is the over-allocation of water to out-of-stream use—80-95% of all water-takes in Canterbury are used for irrigation and stock. This is causing the rivers to dry up.

Here’s a list of rivers that can’t be fished anymore for trout and eels – because they simply do not have enough water: Pareora, Makikihi, Otaio, Te nga wai, Ohape, Orari, Hinds, Hawkins, Selwyn, Irwell, Ashley, Haehaetemoana, Waihi, Temuka, Kakahu, Ashburton – North & Middle, Waihao… etc.

Unfortunately, some of the solutions being proposed to solve this over-allocation are irrational.

Excessive groundwater abstraction also lower the flows in the aquifers—making life difficult for the aquifer crustaceans and the water filtering service they provide.


A rational person, would suggest that this problem was best solved by—reducing groundwater takes.

Instead, irrigation advocates that this problem will be best solved by Big Engineering Projects, such as the Central Plains Water Scheme (CPWS), whose high concept is to introduce a “sustainable run-of-river supply from the surplus water of the Rakaia River.”

What is actually happening, of course, is that only some farmers are forfeiting their groundwater takes in favour of the CPWS, because it’s a lot more expensive, and less reliable. Only 20% of CPW irrigators have actually given up their groundwater consents.

Grandfather Jiang, of the 4000ha Purata Farms, is refusing to take more CPWS water, despite Environment Canterbury asking very nicely, because it is actually 4X more expensive than pumping from his ground and surface water-take consents.

The CPWS canal runs right past their place, and the shareholding Mr Jiang already has represents the largest shareholding of the entire scheme. Thus CPWS is therefore also a failed business model, and puts a lie to the statements from the CPW Trust, which owns the water-take consents, to ensure that “ownership of the consents will never pass to overseas or commercial/corporate interests.”

As an aside, I’m not quite sure how this aligns with Winston Peters policy of “the need to protect New Zealand ownership of key infrastructural assets” when we consider that Denis O’Rourke, the Central Plains Water Trust chairman, and a New Zealand First candidate, is happy to give away the ownership of local infrastructure, to Mr Zhaobai Jiang, an overseas-owned corporate.

Due to the introduction, and continuing development of CPWS what we have now is a lot more new shingly land being converted from drylands to irrigated land. Thus, we are not solving the problem at all, but simply creating another one.

One of our characters says: “If you’re getting into trouble, go back and look at your basics and see where you went wrong.”

A fundamental basic is this – it is the rivers that predominantly recharge the groundwater.

So it is irrational to take water away from the internationally significant braided Rakaia River to store it all winter in Lake Coleridge, to then sell it to irrigators at 8c per cubic metre, to divert the river into numerous channels, to suck it out of numerous surface-takes all along the length of the river, to continue to pump groundwater which must be recharged by the river—thus finally depleting the stunning and once mighty Rakaia River so much so, that it now leaks and limps its way to the coast.

Another example of irrationality is the claim that the CPWS will somehow “flood the plains” with all this water from the river, which will help to recharge all the lowland streams. This was promoted during the consent process as an incentive. They go on to claim that the irrigators will use the water so “efficiently that the plants will only get what it needs”. This is double-speak, plain and simple. More lies.

We now have scientists concerned because the irrigators are not so leaky anymore, as the old leaky drains and dykes were contributing to recharging the groundwater in the past.

So to solve this new and emerging problem, there is now talk of more Big Engineering Projects and to which the Taxpayers and Ratepayers are already set to contribute $2.2m – a Managed Aquifer Recharge Scheme. These are effectively leaky lakes which will be built to “recharge” swimming holes such as Coes Ford. Attempting to pacify the locals perhaps? I’ve heard they are planning to build dozens of these purpose built “leaky” lakes all over the plains.” And so it goes on, and on, on – what nonsense.

Let’s get back to basics – the river recharges the aquifer. We need to reduce surface-water takes and reduce groundwater-takes, immediately.

Our local dairy industry is deeply indebted, mono-cultural and unsustainable. It is feeding the long term wealth – not of Canterbury family farmers – but of banks, fertiliser companies and irrigation construction companies. The only profit being made is via capital gains on the land and holdings.

It is not feeding the long-term health of our soils and waterways. It could be. We want healthy resilient farms regenerating the soil, leaving the soil and our waterways better than we found it. A healthy primary industry sector needs to be diverse, resilient and regenerative.

We need to enforce penalties for all water and river polluters – city and country. That includes ruminant animal urine, nitrates, chemicals, anti-biotics, excess sediments, copper from brake-pads and all other poisons excreted from land-use and city activities.

We need to reduce our use of inputs on farm – such as synthetic fertilisers and palm kernel extract. If we cannot sustain our herds and crops on-farm, then we do not have a sustainable farming system.

I would suggest that the current style of dairy-farming in Canterbury is losing the communities ‘social consent’.

To this end we need to support Environment Canterbury – to refuse further water-take consents, to call in water-take and land-use consents that are putting rivers and aquifers at risk, to be brave in enforcing limits and taking action against high-polluters, and to be much more discrete in granting ‘discretionary’ resource consents for intensive land-uses.

The film Seven Rivers Walking – Haere Mārire is screening in Geraldine, Rangiora, Ashburton and Alices Cinematheque. We examine both city and rural problems affecting our rivers in this film.

REVIEW: James Croot, The Press

Seven Rivers Walking: A passionate clarion call for action on Canterbury’s ailing rivers

The Rakaia is one of the many Canterbury rivers in poor health featured in Seven Rivers Walking

Seven Rivers Walking (E, 84mins) Directed by Gaylene Barnes and Kathleen Gallagher ★★★½

“No one will care until Christchurch runs out of water.”

That’s one of the many laments sounded in this passionate clarion call for action on Canterbury’s ailing rivers.

Directors Gaylene Barnes and Kathleen Gallagher’s documentary captures gatherings of those who live by and care about the province’s waterways as they share their concerns, suggest solutions and take action themselves. Mighty rivers like the Rakaia, Waimakariri, Ashley and Selwyn are in a sorry state, is the clear, erudite message.

Gorgeous overhead shots of the plains and river beds contrast sharply with weed-choked tributaries and defecating cows as the film-makers highlight the link between the intensification of farming (there are now 1.7m dairy and beef cattle in Canterbury) in the area and river degradation.

But while “foreign” farmers (be there from overseas or the Waikato), Environment Canterbury’s “commissioners” and the current National Government who first appointed them in 2010 get most of the heat, there’s also a warning about high population density living in the Garden City and a suggestion that the earthquakes that ravaged the region earlier this decade also could provide some opportunities to redress the balance.

REVIEW: Marie Grunke

Recently I saw the film, Seven Rivers Walking by the NZ filmmakers, Kathleen Gallagher and Gaylene Barnes, as part of the NZIFF in Timaru. The film is about seven Canterbury rivers and the people who live in and around them.

I saw it as a transparent look at the quality of the waters, how that is  affecting the people who live around them and the signs of regeneration that can occur when nature is allowed to be.
The film is also a story of a country on a knife -edge. We have to choose a path that will have life- long consequences,  perhaps even more profound than the nuclear free decision.
The film cut through a cultural limitation I carry, that is, a lack of ‘felt’ awareness of our relationship with the natural world.  It happened as grief moistened my eyes … I felt  a kinship with these rivers, like that of a relative, a Sibling, an Aunt a Great Aunt.
As I left the theatre I carried away with me, an image of the rivers and the soil being the womb of this country, the fertile bearers of life.
Surely our role is to support their restoration rather than to render then infertile.
Marie Grunke
Oamaru, NZ

Q&A: With Jamie Morton, The Herald


A new documentary, showing in this year’s New Zealand International Film Festival and opening in Auckland tonight, tells the tale of seven rivers in the Canterbury Plains – and the industrial pressures that are driving their decline.
But Seven Rivers Walking – Haere Marire – featuring farmers, anglers, rafters, trampers, mana whenua, conservationists and natural scientists – also speaks to the wider problem of freshwater quality in New Zealand, a charged issue this election.
“In the polarised political environment of 2017, this film is a disarmingly peaceable one,” said the festival’s founding director, Bill Gosden.
“It places the hope of change in a shared love of our rivers and riparian environments and a profound appreciation of their ecology.”
Science reporter Jamie Morton discussed the film with its co-directors, Gaylene Barnesand Kathleen Gallagher, who set out to witness the plight of Canterbury’s rivers for themselves.

Tell us a little about this film and why you felt compelled to make it.,

There is a large group of people in Canterbury very passionate about their rivers, and very active.

We took our cue from this community, and their actions.

They wanted to walk their rivers to raise awareness.

We followed these folk as they explored seven Canterbury rivers, including two alpine braided rivers, the Rakaia and the Waimakariri, three hill rivers, the Ashley/Rakahuri, the Orari, and the Upper Selywn/Waikirikiri, and the spring-fed rivers on the “mudflats” – the Heathcote/Opawaho, the Avon/Otakaro, and of course the lower Selwyn at Coes Ford – which is also spring-fed from the big rivers.

The energy, joy and enthusiasm of the walkers and rafters and the wonderful children we met along the way – the guardians, the kaitiaki of our rivers, inspired us onwards and upwards.

One of our characters, Mike Glover, makes a good point early in the film: “Once you start doing stuff for the river, the river’s got you now.”

This happened to us.

This film is for our children and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren – so they know how our rivers once were.

We thought things were bad with our rivers, but once we started researching and digging around in January and February, we realised that our rivers are in total crisis, and heading unrelentingly in an even worse direction.

Film-maker Gaylene Barnes, wading through the Rakaia River. Photo / Supplied

Film-maker Gaylene Barnes, wading through the Rakaia River. Photo / Supplied

What challenges did you encounter in trying to tell the story – and how difficult was it attempting to explain the politics and complexities underlying the issue, particularly in Canterbury’s context?

It was important for us to put the weight in the film on the things that truly matter about our rivers.

What it is that people really cherish about their rivers.

Their water, their beauty, the fish, the birds, the plants and all the life that inhabits the rivers and their edges.

There are a pile of troubles that plague our poisoned, depleted and degraded rivers.

Opawaho/Heathcote has been heavily polluted with chemicals sediment and rubbish dumping for years, so folk fished and swam further and further out from the cities – Selwyn/Waikirikiri, then Rakaia and the Orari.

Now, every single one of these rivers is polluted and many are over-allocated – we need to take a step back and look at them all and then take a step forward and clean them all up.

The best way we found to deal with it was to toss them all together into one rather grim five-six minute sequence – that ends with an apt observation from Rakaia Huts local Bill Southward who said: “Jesus, what a mess we’ve got.”

A big challenge was to take care not to point the finger too long at any one group in particular – the restoration of the health of the rivers is a job for everybody.

We need everybody to come onboard, acknowledge there is a problem and work together towards a solution.

To look very closely at our own rivers and how we can restore it to its health and wellbeing so once again our rivers are full of wildlife and swimmable and drinkable by all.

The degradation of rivers we’ve seen in Canterbury – particularly the Selwyn – have been particularly pronounced. What were some of the most heartbreaking sights and findings you came upon?

Watching dozens of people taking a day off their jobs to rescue dying tiny fish and eels from a river depleted of water.

At Coes Ford, dairy cows were stumbling over large boulders, stones and mud on the shingly soil of the north banks of the Rakaia river.

It’s also the smell – the odour of the fodder-beet paddocks laced with nitrogen-laden urine, where the cows or steers have been ruminating all winter, in the same spot.

Knowing that this is being repeated all across the vulnerable soils of the Canterbury Plains as 30 to 40 million litres of urine a day is being washed into our waterways.

At the source of the Opawaho/Heathcote, we found ammonia, sulphur, then further down, huge sediment runoff via the Cashmere Stream, and then plastic and rubbish on the banks of the river.

Steers near the Rakaia River. Photo / Supplied

Steers near the Rakaia River. Photo / Supplied

The Lower Orari, which Kathleen had thought swimmable and pristine, was full of black algae and other poisons from nitrate pollution, so is no longer swimmable.

The mid Ashley/Rakahuri, which Kathleen had also thought was okay, was full of weeds everywhere so birds couldn’t safely nest, and there was very little water, because the river was severely over-allocated and affected by nitrate pollution.

We were surprised at the amount of river water over-allocated by ECAN from most of the Canterbury rivers.

How much concern do you think now exists among the New Zealand public about the state of our freshwater environment?

There is a huge amount of concern – more than 800 people were at our opening launch at the Lady Isaac Theatre Royal in Christchurch.

It was the top-selling single screen film of the New Zealand International Film Festival – and this is because people care about their rivers in New Zealand.

We’ve heard Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith reject any notion of freshwater issues being a simplistic case of “good guys vs bad guys” – or environmental groups against industry, if you like – and that, through good science and management, it’s possible to have a strong primary industry and healthy waterways. Do you think the picture is much more nuanced than the narrative most of us get – or this still just a classic case of economy vs environment?

The “science” voice – that voice pointing out the hazards and threats to the river and its eco-system – is not being listened to.

Despite all the rhetoric from the National Government and industry about being committed to “make decisions based on evidence-based research”, it is quite clear that the decisions being made are favouring economic imperatives, particularly with regards to the dairy industry.

They do not want to upset the apple cart, because those apples are piled up really high and very precariously.

Also, some of the “management” solutions being proposed are just furthering a weird irrationality that currently pesters water management.

For instance, take a look at the problem of the over-allocated groundwater-takes for irrigation.

This is causing the groundwater levels in the aquifer to drop, creating further problems down-stream as the spring-fed Christchurch streams start drying up.

A rational person, looking at the “evidence” and taking into account what the groundwater scientists are saying would suggest that this problem was best solved by immediately reducing groundwater takes.

Instead, the Government advocates that this problem will be solved by a big engineering project such as the Central Plains Water Scheme (CPWS), whose high concept is to introduce a “sustainable” run-of-river supply from the “surplus water” of the Rakaia River.

What is actually happening, of course, is that only some farmers are forfeiting their groundwater takes in favour of the CPWS, because it’s a lot more expensive, and less reliable.

And we now have a lot of new shingly land being converted from drylands to irrigated land.

Thus, we are not solving the problem at all, but simply creating another one.

One of our characters says: “If you’re getting into trouble, just go back and look at your basics and see where you went wrong.”

Rafting on the Orari River. Photo / Supplied

Rafting on the Orari River. Photo / Supplied

A fundamental basic is that the river recharges the groundwater.

So it is irrational to take water away from the internationally significant braided Rakaia River to store it in Lake Coleridge to sell to irrigators at 8c per cubic metre, to divert it into numerous channels, to suck it out of numerous surface-takes all along the length of the river – and to deplete the stunning Rakaia River so much that it now leaks and limps its way to the coast.

Another example of irrationality is the claim that the CPWS will somehow “flood the plains” with all this water from the river, which will help to recharge all the lowland streams.

But then they say that the irrigators will use the water so “efficiently that the plants will only get what it needs”.

This is double-speak, plain and simple.

We now have scientists concerned because the irrigators are not so leaky anymore, as the old leaky drains and dykes were contributing to recharging the groundwater in the past.

The solution proposed at the moment, and to which the Government is to contribute $1.2m, is to “recharge” Coes Ford with another big engineering project called Managed Aquifer Recharge.

Apparently, they want to build dozens of these purpose built “leaky” lakes all over the plains.

It’s absurd.

Let’s get back to basics – the river recharges the aquifer.

We need to reduce surface-water takes and reduce groundwater-takes, immediately.

And the nitrate leaching problem?

Don’t get us started on the “management” solution they tried a couple of years ago, DCD, a nasty antibiotic they threw around to kill the nitrifying bacteria in the soil that converts ammonia to nitrate.

The Chinese consumer wasn’t too happy to find that in their milk supply.

I would say that if this is the sort of science and management that Environment Minister Nick Smith and Denis O’Rourke, the Central Plains Water Trust chairman and New Zealand First candidate, are going to continue to advocate, then we will not be able to increase the primary industry any further and also have a healthy environment.

So it is actually a classic case of “economy vs environment” situation, because Nick Smith and his posse will continue to cherry-pick the science that aligns with their economic imperative, over the real basic needs of the natural world.

The dairy industry is deeply indebted, mono-cultural and unsustainable.

It is feeding the long term wealth – not of farmers – but of banks, fertiliser companies and irrigation construction companies.

Film-makers Kathleen Gallagher, left, and Gaylene Barnes. Photo / Supplied

Film-makers Kathleen Gallagher, left, and Gaylene Barnes. Photo / Supplied

It is not feeding the long-term health of our soils and waterways.

It could be.

A healthy primary industry sector needs to be diverse, resilient and regenerative.

The pre-dominant farming practices of today make it difficult for the microbes which cleanse and heal our soils and aquifers to flourish.

Round Up and other pesticides and poisons routinely used in farms and in our gardens and sold in supermarkets, kill microbes and destroy the microbial community.

This is what the health of our soil, and therefore our water depend on.

The science and management we need should be built on the biodiversity of plants and livestock.

We want healthy resilient farms regenerating the soil, leaving the soil and our waterways better than we found it.

From what you’ve learned through making this film, do you hold any real hope that we are going to be able to restore polluted and degraded waterways back to the way they were? And, if so, what do you feel we need to do to get there?

Yes, we can immediately take action to restore our waterways to better health.

The farmers and local iwi around Raglan Harbour have already done just that.

Environment Waikato told them it would take 70 years to turn it around – it took them 10 years.

Not only are the rivers and harbour once again swimmable and fishable, but the farms themselves are loaded with fish.

To have a healthy waterway, all water-take consents need to be all revisited and reduced, fairly, across the board.

Water Conservation Orders must be respected and the minimum flows should not be regarded as a bottom-line.

The larger rivers need riparian strips of at least 50m on each side – folk can use it for walking and cycling, and wildlife and plants can delight in these precious strips.

Every stream and creek and pond needs a riparian strip on each side of it.

We need to increase wetlands by digging holes and creating waterholes rich in a diversity of species, as these are the places where nitrates are naturally converted back into dinitrogen in the air.

Farmers and gardeners need to celebrate and embrace the bio-diverse deep root systems of pastures – plantain, alfalfa, chicory and herbs – which protect microbes that work beneath the soil, cleansing and purifying the soil and the water.

Around each plant root live 100 times the amount of microbes as live in other unplanted soil.

They used to describe “the energy” in this place when they talked about Aotearoa New Zealand in the 1840s.

It felt like the bush and the whole place was alive – it was and is full of microbial life.

The grazing patterns need to be altered so deep rooting plants prosper and the number of cows per hectare reduced from three or four per hectare, to two or fewer per hectare.

Spawning grounds on every river lake and stream need to be protected with riparian plantings and growth all around them, with no fishing in any if them.

Councils need to enforce heavy penalties for polluters – that includes those who dump sulphur, ammonia, nitrates, chemicals and other poisons on the land, and all developers or foresters who allow sediment runoff into our waterways.

We need to reduce our use of inputs on farm significantly – such as synthetic fertilisers and palm kernel extract feeds.

According to the World Bank, New Zealand has a fertiliser use up there with Bahrain – a desert – and Singapore.

If we cannot sustain our herds on-farm, then we do not have a sustainable farming system – no matter what good management practices are in place.

We would like to see all imports of urea and superphosphate banned – these are the main drivers pushing us straight into a polluted paradise.

Every community can do it and can also be assisted by Government – national and local.

When it boils down to it, what’s the take-home message of this film?

Walk your river, learn about your river, connect with your river.

Know your river and learn what your river needs.

Work with a local group to restore the health of your river.

Look at every policy involving water – demand that our local and national governments stop the plundering and pollution of all our waterways immediately.

Join Forest & Bird.

Plant trees and deep rooting herbs and plants.

Basically, the film offers the potential to be “smaller, gentler and slower” in our moves upon the planet – rather than the modus operandi of “bigger, harder, faster”.

In general, if we all were to have a more profound sense of the diverse life that abounds around us, we would all take greater care.

Q&A: Jesse Mulligan, RNZ

Seven Rivers Walking

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm1:15 pm on 29 August 2017

Kathleen Gallagher and Gaylene Barnes have released a new film tracking the paths of the seven rivers of the Canterbury Plains and Christchurch City.

The state of our waterways looms as an election issue and is central to their film Seven Rivers Walking – Haere Marire.

The film has been released in the New Zealand Film Festival and tracks 70 kaitiaki – fishermen, local iwi, farmers, artists, rafters, scientists, trampers – as they walk, raft and cycle seven of Canterbury’s rivers over seven weeks to Easter 2017.

REVIEW: Julia Tarnawsky, Southern Lights Centre

Seven Rivers Walking – a movie for the Aquarian Age.  

By Julia Tarnawsky

Peter Richardson, Orest my husband, and I attended the World Premiere of this movie in Christchurch at the NZ International Film Festival on 19th August.

It is directed by two Cantabrian film-makers, Kathleen Gallagher and Gaylene Barnes and follows three other environmental movies by Kathleen, one of which I have seen entitled Earth Whisperers.

Made over seven months, it traces the activities and views of local community groups in the Selwyn District as they monitor and maintain the failing river systems of the Canterbury Plains and bring community and government awareness to their plight.

The major issues that I picked up from the movie, associated with the demise of the rivers, are the over- grazing of cows in fragile eco-systems near the headwaters, leading to an excess of nitrogen in the soil and river system; irrigation of pastures which is taxing the river flow and thus endangering the habitat for bird species and the spawning of fish; use of fertilizers and run-off of waste into the rivers creating algal growth and over-sedimentation of the river beds.

In the movie it was the quality of group interaction and dedication and the deep love for the interconnection of all nature which touched my heart. There was an “Aquarian”  feel to the movie, for me evidence that humanity is moving into the Aquarian Age. Aqua is the Latin word for water. The theme of abundant water is reflected in the symbol for Aquarius – a man with a pot of water, and the spiritual keynote for Aquarius – “Water of life am I, poured forth for thirsty men” 1.

The people who care for the rivers are yearning for the return of the livingness of the river waters. At the highest level of interpretation, as I see it, the Aquarian waters denote an abundant flow of spiritual energy within the human chakra system and abundant, free and sustainable scalar energy for human energy needs, from the vacuum. Yet all of these systems of living flow are somehow interconnected, and mirrored in the interconnectedness of the hearts of those humans caring for the rivers. 2.

The Law of Service which will typify the Aquarian Age is known as “The Law of water and the fishes” and is energised by an out-pouring of energy of devotion vivifying life. “This law is an imposition upon the planetary rhythm of certain energies and impulses which emanate from that sign of the zodiac into which we are steadily moving [Aquarius]”. 3.

Hercules, a mythical Son of God and spiritual initiate, represents the increasingly light-filled soul devoted to service on Earth) was given twelve labours or tests to perform, each for a sign of the zodiac. The Labour of Hercules in the sign of Aquarius is a good illustration of the use of water to cleanse accumulated pollution. 4.

In the story of the Aquarian Labour, Hercules is directed by his Teacher to cleanse the kingdom of King Augeas of ancient evil. The accumulated cattle dung has never been cleared from the royal stables and pastures. Crops were no longer growing and many humans were dying of pestilence. Hercules presented himself to the king and asked for no remuneration for his service. Standing on a nearby river bank Hercules intuitively came to a solution. He would divert the course of two rivers so that they flowed through the king’s stables. Thus the stables were cleaned within a day. He reported his success to the king who saw Hercules’ work as a kind of trickery with ulterior motives, and banished Hercules from his kingdom.

Hercules as an initiate is pledged to do three things:

  1. Serve with a consciousness which is no longer self-centred but universal and helps fellow human beings
  2. Serve in groups in which there is harmonious inter-communication devoted to a particular cause for the welfare of the planet and humanity
  3. Serve through self-sacrifice to do the menial and unappreciated work and so become a life in which the forces of life are directed into cleansing the world.

In the movie Seven Rivers Walking I witnessed groups of people working together in harmony, patiently cleaning algae and sediment from rivers, taking samples, photographing, presenting their research on scientific and statistical information on the river systems to councils, educating the young, planting new vegetation and peacefully demonstrating in rituals to highlight the plight of the rivers. Such work has been going on tirelessly for many years, with little reward to the workers apart from following their vision and conviction that the life of the rivers systems and their habitat must be saved.

The movie Seven Rivers Walking will be screened in various venues around New Zealand. I imagine that the hearts of those who watch it will be ‘seeded’ with a deepening commitment to nurture their own local rivers and keep a watching brief on the welfare of rivers. As New Zealand approaches a general election may the message of this movie also influence their voting.

Julia Tarnawsky, August 22 2017


  1. Alice A Bailey Esoteric Astrology p. 654

2 Tom Bearden The Final Secret of Free Energy pp.7, 8

3 Alice A Bailey Esoteric Psychology Vol II pp 118, 119

4 Alice A Bailey The Labours of Hercules pp.86 -89

Julia and her husband Orest are caretakers and teachers at the Southern Lights Centre. Part of the land is covenanted with the Banks Peninsula Conservation Trust, with the re-establishment of native plants and trees . The pristine waters of the Takamatua Creek rise on the land. There are now no farm lands above the property.


PREVIEW: Logan Church, Checkpoint, RNZ

New documentary targets Canterbury’s waterways

From Checkpoint6:22 pm on 10 August 2017

A critical shift is needed to reverse the increasing levels of pollution in Canterbury rivers and waterways, a documentary filmmaker says.

The directors of Seven Rivers Walking are hoping their documentary will make the government take water quality more seriously.

Armed with a single camera, a $500 grant and some old Russian camera lenses, Christchurch filmmakers Kathleen Gallagher and Gaylene Barnes sought to answer the question: Why were local rivers not as clean as they used to be?

Watch the full trailer here: 

The pair spent the last year investigating waterways surrounding Christchurch, aiming to highlight New Zealand’s water quality issues.

Kathleen Gallagher said she hoped the film would inspire people to find solutions.

Kathleen Gallagher.

Kathleen Gallagher Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

“It’s critical for the future of New Zealand. It’s a shift … that’s needed immediately,” she said.

The 84-minute documentary ended up costing $140,000, with Kathleen and Gaylene dipping into their own pockets to make up the shortfall.

But for Ms Barnes, the story was personal.

“I live on the banks of the Heathcote Opawaha [river], it’s one of the most polluted rivers in the country,” she said.

“The other day I went there and someone had dropped asbestos at the side of the river, another day there was a burnt-out car.”

So far, 30 homes have been flooded above floor level, say authorities, after the Heathcote River burst its banks on the weekend.

The Heathcote river, which burst its banks last month. Photo: RNZ / Sebastian Beyrer

One of the stars of the documentary was farm consultant John King.

He visited farms advising farmers how they could optimise output and protect their land and waterways.

He said the film was timely, given many farmers told him they did not know how to look after rivers and lakes on their properties.

“Famers right now are physically and emotionally exhausted just trying to make a living…agribusiness in general has made it socially unacceptable to do environmentally sound practices,” he said.

“My role in the film is to provide hope that farmers can turn things around.”

John King

John King Photo: RNZ / Logan Church

Water quality has been in the spotlight this year. The government announced in February it wanted 90 percent of lakes and rivers to be swimmable by 2040.

However, Gaylene Barnes said that was not ambitious enough.

“It’s really about having a greater appreciation of the whole ecology of the water system, and does the government get that…well at the moment they need to do better,” she said.

The filmmakers said they hoped people learned how important it was to protect what they call one of New Zealand’s most precious resources.

Seven Rivers Walking will premiere at the International Film Festival in Christchurch on the 19th of August.

Gaylene Barnes.

Gaylene Barnes Photo: RNZ / Logan Church