Massey University freshwater ecologist Professor Russell Death was blunt in his assessment of the national water picture recently.

"Toxic algae blooms in rivers and lakes all over New Zealand; increasing nitrates in Canterbury groundwater; four deaths from the Havelock North incident; and drinking water all around the country below standard."

Death was dead serious. We're now paying the price for dropping the bar so low.

"Surely, most people can see that these events are increasing in severity, occurrence and extent all over New Zealand."


Certainly we're seeing the scourge locally, where the region's list of shame is growing.

Pandora Pond, now closed due to a bacterial anomaly, is the most recent addition.

This week Hawke's Bay Regional Council group manager resource management Iain Maxwell told a council meeting staff were working to narrow Pandora's potential sources down - but with so many possibilities it was "a little bit like chasing a needle in a haystack".

We've taken it for granted for so long that it's come back to slap us in the face.

The presence and knowledge of bacteria isn't enough to scare us - it's only when the practicalities (water taste, recreation etc) come home to roost that we bristle.

We tend to sit up and take note only when it disrupts our way of life.

It's why Pandora's malaise gets more traction than Tutira. In the case of Napier's favourite pond, the closure has caused the cancellation of the water leg of the Tremains Triathlon, and last weekend's Canoe Polo Hawke's Bay tournament had to be shifted.

We laugh at how the ironically named Perfume Point got its name (once the site of raw sewage discharge) and balk at how indifferent an earlier Napier was.


Yet have we really stepped up? Professor Death obviously doesn't think so.

Since the chlorine debate erupted in recent times many have bemoaned the introduction of bleached water. Those people in turn have been criticised for calling for an untreated, "uncivilised" water.

But I say the opposite is true; the picture painted of our current water quality is itself decidedly uncivilised.

One could in fact say it's one of a civilisation devolving.