A water quality report released last week presents a scenario of what could happen, not what is presently happening, says North Otago Federated Farmers president Richard Strowger.
A report prepared by Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright has stated that if major changes to land use continued on the present scale, the country faced major concerns regarding water quality.
“Unfortunately, if we continue to see large scale conversions of land to more intensive uses, it is difficult to see how water quality will not continue to decline in the next few years,” she said in her report, Water Quality in New Zealand: Land Use and Nutrient Pollution.
“This is despite the best efforts of many and their undoubted success.”
The scope of the report was from 1996 projecting out to 2020, and Mr Strowger said in his view, it was more a model of what would happen if nothing was being done.
“This is not a report where things are at; it’s where they’re at if nothing happens.”
He said efforts were being made and a lot of science “had come in”.
“There are clear messages to keep working getting it better; no one in agriculture doubts that. We’re required to continue to work on reducing the environmental impact. Research is finding solutions.”
Statistics in the report show that in Otago if the present trend continued, from 1996 dairying would increase 75,600ha by 2020 while sheep/beef farmland would drop significantly by 174,300ha. The amount of land reverted to scrub would be likely to have risen to 60,900ha in Otago by 2020 and land in forest increase by 35,000ha.
“The report is focused on the two nutrient pollutants – nitrogen and phosphorus,” Dr Wright said.
“On land, they are valuable nutrients, helping plants to grow. But when there is too much of them in water, they become pollutants, and can lead to excessive growth of weeds, slime and algae.
“Over recent years, hundreds of thousands of hectares used for sheep and beef farming have been converted to dairy farming on the one hand, and forestry on the other.
“Conversion to dairying increases nutrient loads on water; conversion to forestry does the opposite.
“I applaud the effort that is being put into environmental mitigation on dairy farms. Unfortunately, it is particularly difficult to control nitrogen. Nitrogen – in the form of nitrate – is so soluble that I think of it as the ‘elusive’ pollutant.”
She said she was pleased that fresh water policy was on the Government’s agenda, with the recent release of a discussion paper on setting ‘bottom lines’ for water quality.
“I hope that this report will better inform both the general public and those who make decisions on their behalf.”
Meanwhile, Environment Canterbury (ECan) has welcomed the release of the report.
“It confirms that the level of nitrates have risen significantly in the past decade, at least in part because of dairying and other intensive farming activities,” said David Caygill, ECan’s Commissioner with responsibility for water.
“In Canterbury, we are well aware declining water quality is an issue. The Canterbury Water Management Strategy is using a community-led, collaborative approach to improve water outcomes, backed up by regulation.”
Dairy compliance rates increase
Dairy effluent consent compliance rates in Canterbury have risen in the latest season, continuing the improving trend of the past four years, says Environment Canterbury.
The latest information shows that 72 per cent of the region’s 997 monitored dairy farms are fully compliant, an increase of two percentage points on the 2011-2012 season.
The figures are from the Canterbury Dairy Report for the 2012-2013 season, which also shows 21 per cent of farms had minor non-compliance issues, while the rate of significant non-compliance fell to seven per cent – down one percentage point from the previous season.
“It is pleasing to see we have maintained the improvement of previous seasons and are continuing to work with the Canterbury Dairy Effluent Group to find ways to improve compliance and reduce significant non-compliance,” said Environment Canterbury director of resource management Kim Drummond.
The Canterbury Dairy Effluent Group is a council-industry partnership set up in 2008 to improve environmental performance in the dairy sector. In the 2008 -2009 season, just 43 per cent of dairy farms were fully compliant.
“We are increasingly taking a whole of farm approach to nutrient management, which along with various industry-led initiatives, provides the tools and incentives to achieve continued improvements in environmental performance and effluent compliance rates in the dairy sector.”
The Canterbury Dairy Report shows there were nine abatement notices and 11 infringement notices issued and three dairy farmers were prosecuted during the 2012-13 season.
The main causes of non-compliance were effluent ponding, not having an effluent management plan, not having a copy of the consent or failing to display it in the shed, exceeding daily volume and discharging outside the consented area.
Environment Canterbury compliance officers visited each of the region’s 997 dairy farms at least once between July, 2012 and May, 2013.
Meanwhile, Otago Regional Council chairman Stephen Woodhead has welcomed a Government statement recognising the progress the council has made so far into trying to bring about improved water quality in the Otago region.
Environment Minister Amy Adams and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said Otago, Canterbury, and Southland were already “well down the track of introducing freshwater objectives and limits to improve water quality”.
Mr Woodhead said the Government recognition of ORC’s efforts was pleasing and appropriate, as the council was preparing to implement Plan Change 6A (water quality) to the Otago Water Plan.
Mr Woodhead said the council was well aware of the water quality issues the Otago region faced.
“We have led the way in New Zealand by introducing limits to the amount of contaminant that can come off rural landholdings and into rivers.”
By CHRIS TOBIN