Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Freshwater, or is it?...

The past week has been one that keeps rearing the ugly head of freshwater in New Zealand and the shocking state it's in.

First, the BBC caught our Prime Minister out, when Hardtalk's Stephen Sackur asked him how we could market ourselves as 100% Pure, when 90% of our lowland rivers were too polluted to swim, drink or fish from;
To which our nation's leader replied that the science behind those shocking pollution statistics was just "one man's opinion." This casual dismissal of scientific fact of the state of our freshwater, the key to our nation's social, environmental and economic wellbeing (if you don't believe that, try thinking of life in NZ without it), gave me quite a fright.

Then Nick Smith, Minister for the Environment, released the long-awaited National Policy Statement of Freshwater. This is a big deal. Despite the RMA requiring National Policy Statements so that councils can make plans that protect the values outlined in an NPS, we've never had one on freshwater in NZ.  It took 18 months, and more than 50 representatives from groups as widely diverse as Forest & Bird and Dairy NZ to get it into shape. Good stuff all around for these parties to agree to some tough measures to protect water. Except... well the policy wonks at MFE must have decided it was all a bit risque, and what was released was a watered-down version of what all of those parties agreed to. It gives councils no national standards to stick to, and puts incredibly long time-frames in place. NZ economist, Rod Oram believes it lacks teeth.

The NPS also promises huge amounts of funding for irrigation projects in NZ, despite the fact that intensification of farming and agribusiness has contributed significantly to the destruction of our waterways.

The NIWA (National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research) website says, “There is no doubt that our declining river water quality over the last 20 years is associated with intensification of pastoral farming and the conversion of drystock farmland to dairy farming, particularly in Waikato, Southland, and Canterbury."

So why are we paying people to pollute our freshwater?

Cattle damage (beef) in the iconic Mackenzie basin... and there's a big push to irrigate that golden 'Speight's' country, turning it forever a lurid green. Never mind what might happen to the relatively pristine lakes and rivers there...


  1. ah sadly, it appears that the pollution issues associated with freshwater continue. HALF of southland dairy farms are non-compliant right now. appalling.


  2. While it's true Piwakawaka, that the most recent round of inspections revealed what you describe, prior months had recorded the opposite. However, the non-compliance by that many farmers is a disgrace and has fired-up the council and it's staff, along with the public to demand action. It remains to be seen whether the industry will do anything about it. The is a meeting between council and industry soon. Federated Farmers did their usual denial act but nobody listens to them anymore.

  3. yeah, good to hear Robert, and it amazes me that the feds continue to be such a powerful lobby, when their membership is relatively low (i know several farmers who simply refuse to be represented by them, because of their outdated, brash way of lobbying). Compare their 20 odd thousand members to Forest & Bird's 70 000 members - yet the Government doesn't often wish to listen to those represented by F&B. it's a bit of a conundrum.