Monthly Archives: January 2015

How water is made


To ask ‘How is water made’ is to ask a simple question, yet the answer is quite complex. To answer it, it is necessary to go deep into the forms that surround us, and travel from the reality we all experience and see, into the dynamic world of atoms, sub atomic particles, the Big Bang and electron interaction. An overview of how water is made leads to an interesting conjunction of indigenous views on water and those of the West. This article begins with the scientific view of water.

H2O is an equation even more well known than Einstein’s famous e=mc2. Water is indeed the molecule of life. Water is formed by hydrogen – in fact ‘hydro gen’ means water generator – and Oxygen. Hydrogen is the most abundant element in the universe. Hydrogen accounts for 75% of the mass of the universe, helium comes next with 23% and Oxygen is 1%; all up the three elements account for 99%. That also means water is produced by the atomic mixing of two of the three most abundant elements in the universe.

In the very early moments of the universe, there was basically a molten soup consisting of protons (positively charged particles) and neutrons (whose charge is neutral). The heavy elements of helium, lithium and boron were formed out of the clumping together of protons and neutrons under intense heat pressures. Helium4 has two protons and two neutrons, lithium has three protons and three or four neutrons, and boron11 has five protons and six neutrons. These elements do not have electrons, whereas hydrogen does.

Hydrogen was formed when the universe ‘cooled’ to a mere 4000C. At that temperature, protons can catch electrons via electro-weak interaction and from that the dance of electrons occurs. This eventually gives rise to the entire table of elements, but in the meantime and importantly for water, hydrogen is created. Hydrogen has a proton and an electron buzzing like bees around a hive: the orbits are actually probabilities of being in a particular location, or travelling with a specific momentum. Some forms of hydrogen have neutrons and these form isotopes of hydrogen. This applies to many elements: Helium4 is an isotope of helium, for example.

So how about water? At the centre of stars four time massive than our sun, at intense temperatures a small amount of carbon will convert Hydrogen to Helium. But in this process inside stars, something special happens: there is a chain reaction in the Hydrogen to Helium process that results in the Carbon-Nitrogen-Oxygen cycle. Stars repeat this process, which results in creating resources of Carbon, Nitrogen and Oxygen for the star. At really high temperatures, the isotopes Oxygen16 and 17 occur which are two of the forms of Oxygen most seen in nature.

Once Oxygen is in the system is it a matter of time for the collision of particles to occur that creates the molecule that is water. This occurs via the electrical interaction of electrons in the outer orbits of the elements. This might seem strange, but then this process is how the entire table of elements is created. In the case of water, the Oxygen connects to the two Hydrogen atoms, and the remaining two pairs of electrons in the orbit of Oxygen give the molecule the shape of a tetrahedron.

Then it is a matter of transporting the water molecule through space. As the heavy hydrogen component of carbonaceous chondrites matches that of H2O on Earth, it is considered that meteorites of the carbonaceous chondrite type brought water to this planet.

H2O is a very special molecule as it has three forms: solid, liquid and gas. As Phillip Ball (the source of much of the preceding information) pointed out, you can fly a Jumbo aircraft through clouds, but you need an icebreaker ship to pass through ice.

Beyond our planet there are vast fields of ice on Neptune, and most comets are chunks of ice compacted with minerals. On our planet, the fact of the matter is that 71% of the surface of Earth is water. We should perhaps be calling this place Planet Water as that name is closer to the actual state of affairs.

Then within the human body, between 50 and 65% of humans is water. The range is due to the fat content of the body. There is a strong relationship between blood – the main fluid in humans – and the great oceans: they are chemically identical. This explains why in hospitals people are sustained by a saline drip: salt water can be directly fed into the bloodstream. The only difference between sea water and blood is that blood contains red and white corpuscles.

So there you have it: water from the beginning of the universe to the human body. Rather than being some odd exception to a universe set about on other duties, humans are intimately, chemically and atomically part of it. This perhaps explains the importance given to water by indigenous peoples and contrasts, as it happens to the current Western view. The latter is mainly one of thrash (exploit for resources) and trash (dump waste and runoff in it).

This is so predominantly, but not exclusively. For we live in a world where some dairy farmers care about their landscape and use natural methods to ensure the health of water ways. There are consultants in water usage that save millions of litres of water every year, through the wise use of water. Here in Taranaki Aotearoa New Zealand, there is an over supply of water, but through careful use, participation in the abundance of nature is granted. The wise use of water is something that indigenous peoples and Westerners can agree on, as part of the way forward in our relationship with the environment.

The importance of water to indigenous peoples and interconnections to the Western scientific view, is to be the subject of a following article on this subject. Part of the goal of attendance at the SCANZ residency is to further my understanding of indigenous views of water.

The changing Waiwhakaiho mouth

Maps drawn by Jane Richardson
Maps drawn by Jane Richardson

In these current (left) and past maps, the changing course of the river over time has been mapped by fluvial geomorphologist Jane Richardson of Massey University. The palaeovalley refers to the changing drainage patterns of rivers.

The sound of boulders moving down the river, one form of the changing river landscape, was mentioned in an interview with a farmer whose farm was adjacent to the Waiwhakaiho.

Heni George and Myree – mother and daughter interview

Tom and Heni share a funny story
Tom and Heni share a funny story

Now in her 80’s, Heni George used to farm on Alfred Road adjacent to the Waiwhakaiho River

My parents share milked. In 1935 they bought a farm corner of Peter Road/Egmont Road (Alfred Road). The Waiwhakaiho River was their back boundary. We had 28 cows on the farm. There was a Rudd Milking Machine with great big milking cups… they sold cream. As a little kid I was taken on a horse and cart up the back of the farm to feed out to the cows. I was always taken everywhere with Mum and Dad. On sunny days I was taken by my mother down to the river for a paddle in the water and play in the sand. The water was always freezing; it never seemed to get warm.

I went to Kaimiro Primary School. The Head Teacher, Charlie Morton, who was a great man, was quite keen on nature and on native trees, so we often went to the river. We knew every tree in the bush and we jolly well had to! We used to do projects and walk up the river. We would pick pieces of trees and take them home and press them.

Dad was called up (WW2) so he sold the farm to do his bit. Us kids and Mum lived in Inglewood. When he returned he bought a Returned Solder Ballot Farm, which was 1.5 miles down the river from where the first farm was. He milked about 60 cows there.

As a teenager, my brother and I used to eeling in the weekends. A neighbour used to give us a shilling for any silver belly eels we caught. We thought we were made.

What does the river mean to me? The Waiwhakaiho River represents the early years of my life, we did everything there. There were supple jacks along the edge of the river we used as swings, eeling, and paddling. Sometimes my Mum would make sandwiches and we would spend all day at the river – very happy memories.

I got married to the son of the chap who bought Dad’s first farm – we had 220 acres and milked 160 cows, but we started with 30, we worked hard to build numbers. We didn’t have electricity for the first 12 months.

Myree – Heni’s daughter
So many childhood memories – we lived on the farm beside the river at the top of Alfred Road, we were the last house before the mountain. Growing up as kids was fun; you could go eeling and swimming. We had one big swimming hole we liked swimming in. We always had to check it out after every flood to make sure the stones and boulders hadn’t moved when the river flooded. You would lie in bed at night and hear the boulders rolling down the river. It sounded like thunder, continuous thunder, but it was the stones moving in the river. When there was heavy rain, you’d have to see how far the river came up, but we knew depending on how long the thunder noise continued. We ended up giving up our favourite swimming hole when my 10 yr old younger brother caught an eel, that was taller than he was when you held it up!

When we were late primary school age we would camp and had the novelty of taking our dishes down to the river to wash them. When I was at secondary school I would take my homework and sit on the boulders with my feet in the water – I found it relaxing but I could concentrate.

I went camping with a girlfriend on what we called ‘The Island,’ we pitched our tent in the bush, cooked our tea and washed our dishes. We got scared when we heard the possums.

There used to be a footbridge on Peters Road and we used to have to cross it to get to the school bus if the river flooded.

How do you I regard the river now? It is sacred… the river and the mountain. I find both very therapeutic and calming. I don’t need to see pictures. I’ve always got it in my mind.

I left the farm to get married when I was 21yrs old. My husband also grew up by a river too and he had memories of camping out – so we have both encouraged our children to do the same on our current farm.

Looking through memorabilia during the interview
Looking through memorabilia during the interview

An interview with Keith Rowlands

Keith beside one of the waterways on his farm
Keith beside one of the waterways on his farm

Keith Rowlands farms upstream of the Water Treatment Station on the Main Highway. His 200ha farm has an effective farming area of 165ha, milking 430 cows.

What we do on farms is hugely important because this is where New Plymouth gets all of the city water from. The Waiwhakaiho River catchment is the source of fresh water. We have 3kms of Mangorei stream as our back boundary.

Taranaki Regional Council initiated Riparian Planting for all Taranaki farmers in 1998 (16 yrs. ago) way before other regional councils – our council has been awesome. They have a very good website and fantastic maps – there are so many waterways and streams coming off the mountain. They know who have plans and who don’t.

I took it on right at the start. We started in 1996; we have quite a few stands of native bush as well. We keep the stock out and it makes management a lot easier. Every year we plant trees. You need a buffer zone along the creeks of 3-5 metres minimum. When I’ve fully fenced every waterway I can get a completion certificate – not many of those certificates have been issued. I need to spend time replacing trees that I have lost and upgrading the fences. You need a 4-5 metre buffer zone or you are wasting your time. We would probably have 20km of fencing protecting the streams. We’ve planted thousands of trees. I find 5-600 per year is a big job for one person. I’ve done the entire tree planting on our farm myself. We plant in the autumn – the flaxes and ToiToi are fairly easy but the trees take longer. The trees are grown under contract for Taranaki Regional Council at a very good price.

I grew up on the farm, Dad milked about 80 cows but the farm was only 40ha (100acres). He and neighbours all had sheep on the back part of the farm and only had the cows at the front of the farm. I went to Massey University (Diploma of Agriculture) and came back to share milk for my parents. Slowly we have bought and amalgamated neighbouring farms.

We have a little camp ground by the river for our family. We go and camp there over the summer in an old caravan. Great swimming hole. As a kid I went trout fishing and our children have all been too. We have caught some great fish there. We’d wrap them in tin foil and cook them up in a fire. An awesome holiday – you didn’t have to go anywhere. I’d get up early, go and milk and come back for breakfast. We still get good fish today from the same spot.

In my father’s day the cows used to drink out of the river. The cream went to the Mangorei Co-op. We had pigs and used to take the cream cans to the front gate. My Dad is 93yrs old now – he had horses on the farm. My son is on the farm now – I go out there now and think of the huge progress our family has made in a relatively short time – it’s incredible! My son and his partner are lower order share milkers for us.

We have put in a roofed feed pad to feed cows during the lactation and when they are dry over winter. We feed maize and palm kernel. The roof is to minimize the effluent run off – the roof is important with our heavy rainfall. I spray the effluent from a storage pond. We built a new 40 bail rotary cowshed 10yrs ago on a new site – it was all set up 10 yrs. ago. We irrigate over 30ha, which is way more than we have to under the regulations. We have about 1.5 metres of annual rainfall. We are required to have 90 days of effluent storage, which is really difficult with our rainfall.

My son and I belong to the local discussion group – it’s better to talk to other farmers about difficulties of complying with the Regional Council freshwater rules – because city people really don’t understand. They think we are just moaning again. In early 2015 the Taranaki Regional Council will put out their proposed Freshwater Plan. We want to have our say and it is important farmers contribute to the details in the plan – every Taranaki farm is different, especially in terms of rainfall and one rule won’t fit all.

The Mangorei Stream is important to keep the water temperature of the Waiwhakaiho River down after the power station. There is very little flow after the weir. Our planting keeps the stream water cold. Most people wouldn’t realize that our tree planting is crucial to maintaining the water temperature of the Waiwhakaiho River.

Keith discussing the Mangorei catchment tree plan
Keith discussing the Mangorei catchment tree plan

An interview with Craig Knowles, who farms next to Taranaki/Egmont National Park

Craig explains the wood chip barn wintering system
Craig explains the wood chip barn wintering system

The Knowles’ farm is 110ha though effectively this is 90ha of farmed land. Their stock consists of 210 cows on a Dairy NZ Systems 3 and they are owners in their 3rd dairying season.

The backing boundary is the Waiwhakaiho River, approx 900 metres in length. The river is completely fenced and planted in native bush. We have an annual rainfall of 4m. We have a Redpath Wintering Barn. The cows are dried off on 31st May. They are wintered in the barn until calving. They go outside twice a week for 6-8 hrs a day. Once they calve they are back out in the paddocks. The payback (5yrs estimate) is in 3 weeks of extra milking and more pasture growth (because of less winter damage). The total expense was close to $250,000 with an annual cost of about $20,000 for woodchips and maintenance. Before we wintered half the herd off at huge expense – the cows had to be transported out of the district.

All the creeks that feed the Waiwhakaiho River are fully fenced and the Riparian areas planted. Effluent is irrigated back onto the pastures. There are two storage effluent ponds, a pump and irrigators to distribute the effluent back onto the pastures at a time of year that is safe and we will get maximum pasture benefit. This is a fully compliant system.

We need to look after the river. We are the first farm after the National Park. We have a sense of responsibility for the people downstream. I’ve seen good eels in the side creeks.

I didn’t grow up on the river but I rafted and kayaked down it from TOPEC, an Outdoor Pursuit Centre, it was a fun experience. TOPEC used the Tail Race from the Mangorei Power Station and the Waiwhakaiho River.

A new wintering shed
A new wintering shed

Interview with Wayne Peters

Wayne and Joy Peters on their farm
Wayne and Joy Peters on their farm

Wayne Peters and wife Joy Peters live on Kent Road

In November 2011, Prime Minister John Key presented a Taranaki Regional Council certificate to Wayne Peters for completing the riparian planting programme on their farm.

He believes in the Maori concept of mauri – or life-force – and notes that some plants seem to wait until the time is right for them to grow.

A protected stream on the farm
A protected stream on the farm

The farm is our land, but we share it with the birds and the trees. I’m the custodian and I’m trying to help.

Wayne also said in the Taranaki Daily News Dec 2011 When I look at it, I see peace, I see harmony, I see beauty and I see myself as one of the luckiest people in the world. Being here with my friends and family, the bush, the trees and the birds is an absolute privilege.

Establishing stands of native bush on my farm has been a spiritual journey as much as a practical one. Riparian planting is so much more than protecting the river banks. It is about being a spiritual part of the land. I have learned a lot from maoridom and I regard myself as being a maori (with a small m) as opposed to Maori (which I am not). I have learned so much from the bush. It’s important that it be a labour of love. It is a brilliant journey!

In terms of childhood, my Dad was the 2nd generation; I am the 3rd and our son is the 4th generation farming here. The generational involvement (maoridom) ties you to the land. My childhood memories are about trout fishing in the river. We also caught a 15lb eel under a crossing in the creek. In the creeks there were kukapu, karawai(native crayfish) and striped kukapu – we used to catch them. Heaps of possums to shoot. My father always talked of Maori with great respect and he encouraged me into maoridom thinking.

I grew up beside my father, I milked the cows before going to school… we had 100 cows. When we came here in 1955 Dad had 60 cows on 140 acres… it was 2-3 years before we saw the river – gorse, blackberry & bracken fern – he used a blackberry harrow which had a 45 degree tyne to take the roots out. Dad spent virtually all his spare time spraying gorse.

In the early years before tankers, the cream went to Mangorei Coop near the power station, for butter production. One of the jobs when I came home from school was to get the cream cans in off the stand (on the roadside). Dad took then out, because we had a cart that we pulled by hand – it was very tough heavy work. Hogan Brothers picked up the cream and took it down to the factory. We had pigs here.

What does the river mean to me? The river is very important to me as a boundary, but it is also a good place to be. Now that the planting is mature you can go and sit by the river and be enveloped by the trees meeting over the water. The river has strength and you get a feeling of awe. You know what it is capable of doing of course.

I don’t think the urban people in New Plymouth have any understanding of what farmers are doing to protect the river. While farm prices rapidly go up there is little chance of resolving the water quality or pollution problems in NZ because farmers are put under such pressure to produce more to pay the loans off. A Capital Gains Tax would help solve the problem.

Farm tree planting – if I was planting a riverside from bare pasture, I would plant flax splitting it up into fans with roots, making a slot with a spade, plant and stamp on it. Plant at 2 metre intervals, that density is perfect for flax. Find kotukutuku (tree fuchsia), cut branches at 45 degree, leave the top square and hit into the ground during winter (1/3rd in the ground). I would plant it all like that and walk away and allow nature to do its thing. You have to control invading weeds like blackberry during the first 5yrs. By tending and caring for it between 5-10 years you would see an explosion of ferns – ground ferns and tree ferns (Mamaku). You have to have shade – then you will see Coprosma Robusta (Karamu) and Australis or Grandifolia (Kanono) and you are away running. This land will revert quickly.

Wayne refers to himself as just a custodian of his farm but one with undisputed empathy for the flora and fauna of the area. His family farms 100 hectares, milking 180 cows on hilly country. They have transformed a farm where cows drank from its 50 unfenced creeks which form part of the Mangorei river watershed, into a property where maybe the bush is perhaps more important than the cows.

Wayne Peters with Tom Phillips
Wayne Peters with Tom Phillips

An interview with Alistair and Amanda

Taranaki farmer Alistair Jordan
Taranaki farmer Alistair Jordan

Alistair is a farmer who lives near German Hill, and is in the 60+ age bracket
My parents milked 55 cows when I was a child. We spent hours and hours mucking around the river right up until I was 15-16 years old. My Grandfather was a keen trout fisherman; I loved spending time with him. The river was always recreational when we were children, fishing, eeling, making boats or kayaking- it’s all fenced off now and not as easy for the children or grandchildren to get access.

Amanda is 38 and the daughter of Alistair
We had a favourite waterhole not far from our house when I was a child on the farm. We did a lot of eeling. We tried not to eel where we swam, our younger sister was frightened of eels and wouldn’t swim where we had seen eels… we had a lot of eeling holes. We would eel off our farm bridge and check the lines every hour when we had friends over. Every minute of the holidays we would spend in or by the river. We had a separate place we would swim our horses too.

We started fencing rivers decades ago; initially we got prisoners to help plant the first trees and flaxes. It became a project. Back then we bought in plants from outside, but now we find that if we fence off an area the native bush comes back. I don’t need to plant out – just give it time. We started fencing off the rivers to protect the banks and keep the stock out of the rivers. The water levels can rise very quickly after heavy rain. It can be very dangerous for fishermen, but it equally goes down quickly.

The streams are nicely covered with trees and it is very pleasurable to go walking by the streams and rivers. We are doing a lot to protect our rivers. I wish the people nearer the coast all did the same – some parts of the river have no cover.

What does the river mean to me? The rivers are beautiful, I love them, but they are a curse too due to the compliance. We want to do the best for our rivers, but we do need to know what the best is for the water quality.

I love them, I love walking the rivers with my children, but all of this (publicity over dirty dairying) is taking the specialness away because we are being told that we are not doing the best.

Cows grazing by riparian planting
Cows grazing by riparian planting