Dairy is the main scapecow when it comes to water pollution blame, but that industry takes it’s clean clean green obligations more seriously than most city dwellers.
Newshub has published a series of reports on water quality in New Zealand. One of the biggest culprits would appear to be the dairy industry – but that could be an unfair emphasis when there are a number of other causes of our water pollution, people and cities being major ones.
As Newshub reported in parts one and two of our special investigation into New Zealand’s river health, the dairy industry has acknowledged the role it plays in pollution, and its farmers have spent a billion dollars trying to protect waterways from further contamination.
There are other factors to consider when it comes to river pollution.
- The beef, lamb and venison industries are not regulated to protect waterways.
- Other land and river-based industries such as milling are key polluters.
- Invasive species of fish and plants are still a major problem.
- Climate change is having a major detrimental effect as our waterways heat up.
While it would be easy for Newshub to square up the protagonists in a ‘we said, they said’ debate, the true facts of the matter are that all New Zealanders are responsible for the health of our waterways, even the great majority of us who live in urban areas.
We all live here, we all eat the food that is grown here, and we all go to the toilet here – it’s that simple.
Even political critics of polluters are a part of the problem.
We are all responsible for water pollution
Freshwater ecologist Dr Kevin Simon from Auckland University told Newshub all Kiwis have a part to play.
“We spend lots of time of assigning blame and not enough time solving problems, so we need to focus more on how can we do these things better?
“I think all of New Zealand needs to step back and take ownership of this, it’s not just farmers, it’s not just the dairy industry, it’s all of us that own this problem, and we’re all going to need to step up together to try and figure out ways to do things better to fix these systems.
“It’s going to take all of us to make some hard choices to do that.”
Some of those hard choices will need to be made by people who live in New Zealand’s cities.
An easy choice is to blame someone else. Most cow pollution is at least natural, albeit concentrated.
City dwellers are major polluters
Just think of the almost 1.5 million people crammed into the relatively small area of the Auckland isthmus and the pollution that causes.
NIWA’s chief scientist of freshwater and estuaries Dr John Quinn told Newshub city living has a massive impact on water quality, and we should all be more aware of it.
“It is very much a ‘we’re all in this together’ issue, but in one sector, the urban-rural split in this is not actually very helpful for people blaming each other.
Who is actually making an effort to reduce pollution?
Is the dairy industry receiving the credit it deserves?
Dr Quinn also believes the dairy industry has made great strides in recognising and rectifying the pollution it causes, even in the face of increasing intensification.
“I think the dairy farming community needs to receive some credit for the effort that it’s put in over the last 15 years, and if we look at the results from those dairy practice catchments we looked at, we have seen improvements in water clarity amongst all of those, [and] reductions in E. coli in a number of them.
“Farmers have done a good job of getting livestock out of streams and improving effluent and nutrient management,” he says.
But they are still the main scapegoat, or scapecow.
Dr Simon says Kiwis should appreciate what farmers are trying to achieve by reducing pollution in waterways, which has gone largely unchecked since farming began in the 1800s.
“Part of the issue is that the farmers have to bear the brunt but we’ve got to help them. We’ve got to help provide them with solutions that are economically feasible and will work. Farmers don’t want to pollute, they want to make a living just like the rest of us.”
Some people make a living flying around the country complaining about others who pollute.
The real questions though, are these: Is the change, both in attitude and application, happening fast enough – and is it happening with the right amount of intensity?
We may only find out the answers to these questions in 10 to 20 years.