We just returned from several weeks of hiking through the south island of New Zealand, a long time dream come true, that even exceeded expectations. Beautiful country, beautiful people, but this blog is supposed to be about water. So here we go.
Water, water, everywhere. Blue, green, clear, even pristine. From stunning waterfalls that stretch the length of a sheer mountain face, to rocky tumbling streams of every hue of green and blue, to ancient glaciers wedged within tall peaked crevices, to deep blue alpine lakes. Not to mention the sounds, the fjords, and the Tasman Sea. There is water everywhere.
I’ll never forget our twisty drive down to Milford Sound from Queenstown between gloriously competing mountain ranges, in the rain. By the time we had reached the Homer Tunnel there was water pouring down rock faces in tens and twenties of individual waterfalls, some falling for yards at a time, others measured in football fields, blowing, spraying, twisting in the wind.
The little cottage we stayed in sat next to a beautiful creek which showed green when the sun peaked through, and was surrounded by at least four full rock face waterfalls. All this in our own back yard. Most were gone the next day, run dry, but some of the bare mountains continued to leak water, glistening in the sun. Almost like tears. I have never seen anything like it.
And, on a remote three day mountain top hike I got to experience something I always hoped to but had long ago given up on. The guide who was assigned to my friend and I to keep us out of trouble (we were the oldest in the small group!) left the trail and walked over to a surging creek. This one was more blue than green, but crystal clear.
He dipped my plastic water bottle into the current, filled it quickly, and delivered it back to me with a big grin. I unscrewed the lid and drank deeply from it, cold, fresh and natural. I was actually drinking water from a mountain stream, untreated, uncontaminated, non-chlorinated, just pure and clean. In all my time around springs, creeks, streams, and lakes, this was a first. I never realized that fresh is a flavor!
It brought back the memory of my father claiming to dip a cup in the old White River, when he was young, and drinking it down, something no one could dream of today. Despite my original doubts (sorry dad!), his story was authenticated by one of float czar Jim Owen’s old guides, Ted Sauer on a separate occasion. So I accept it as truth, though I didn’t think I would ever have a similar experience.
Well I have, one I will always remember.
OK, OK, I know, you are begging me to stop. I’m either stretching the truth or too deep into a bottle of wine to know the difference. I will, but I’m not making this up. I have never seen anything like the waters of New Zealand. And New Zealanders are particularly proud of them, and committed to their protection and preservation, at pretty much any cost.
Is there a lesson in this for us and our own precious Ozarkian waters?
Yes. It can be done, where there is will, passion, determination, and regulation.
What if water is the next oil, the currency of the future? What if fresh, clean water is a full life AND economic development necessity, not a take for granted? What if clean water will determine what life holds for our grandchildren, and theirs.
If you believe any of the above, and I do, you are relieved to know that we are loaded, we are wealthy, we are comparably rich to our neighbors, in the Ozarks. Our water quality and quantity give us a leg up for the future. But if, and only if, we preserve and protect, regulate and enforce, educate and take pride in our most precious natural resource. Like New Zealanders.
Industry that threatens or fouls our water in the interest of short term returns, regulations that are watered down or weakened to the point of disfunction, and ignorance or naivety, are bad business for the future of the Ozarks. Over time, economic development and prosperity go hand in hand with responsible environmental stewardship of our most valuable natural resources. In our case, water.
No, all is not perfect in New Zealand. In my next blog I will share some of the increasing challenges to their pristine waters as related by most everyone I asked. Really not too different from those that confront us, beyond their national commitment to protect and preserve.