Dire warning about NZ’s freshwater

We have known for some time that there are serious concerns over the quality of fresh water, of our streams and rivers and lakes. Some have deteriorated alarmingly over the last few decades. Dairy farm intensification has been a major factor.

Our ‘clean green’ image has been challenged.

The last National Government tried to address fresh water quality, but it is difficult to make changes for the better quickly.

Dairy farmers and Fonterra have also been making efforts to clean up their operations.

November 2017: Fonterra launches plan to improve waterways

Fonterra today launched an ambitious plan to help improve the quality of New Zealand’s waterways. Based around six strategic commitments, the plan will underpin Fonterra’s efforts to promote healthy streams and rivers, including a strong focus on sustainable farming and manufacturing.

Fonterra’s six water commitments are as follows:

  1. Farm within regional environmental limits
  2. Encourage strong environmental farming practices
  3. Reduce water use and improve wastewater quality at manufacturing plants
  4. Build partnerships to improve waterway health
  5. Invest in science and innovation to find new solutions
  6. Make the products people value most

Each of Fonterra’s commitments is underpinned by a set of clear actions. These range from supporting regional councils to set environmental limits for water use, investing $250 million to drive a 20 percent reduction in water use across its 26 manufacturing sites and almost doubling the Co-operatives network of Sustainable Dairy Advisors.

Mike Joy was interviewed on Newshub Nation this weekend.

Ecologist Mike Joy says it’s still unknown whether the government’s National Policy Statement on freshwater management will make a difference.

“I’ve had my heart broken too many times by politicians to be caught up in the excitement. I’m doing everything I can to support and to provide science and to be part of panels and I hope that they’re brave enough to make the kind of decisions that need to be made.”

He says agricultural intensification is a big part of what he describes as a ‘freshwater crisis’. “We need to face the fact that we have way too many cows in this country, for a start, and that’s a big part of our problem”.

He says reducing the amount of cows on farms will not reduce profit. “In a biological system like a farm, it gets to a point where you plateau; you have no gain…By reducing 20 per cent of the cows off most of the farms in New Zealand, it would actually make the farmer more money.”

Can you farm with less cows, be good for the environment and yet make a profit? Can you do both?

Yes, definitely you can. And what it’s about is diversity. At the moment, we’ve got monocultures; we’ve got industrial farming. And all over the world, we can show that you gain nothing from that. You employ less people. You have less people on the land. You pollute more. At the moment, we’re making milk out of fossil fuels, where the nitrate fertiliser that’s causing all of the problems in our rivers comes from fossil fuels – a third from Taranaki and two thirds from the Middle East.

So it’s completely unsustainable, what we’re doing. So the landscapes that will look like— And Chris Perley wrote about it, and some of the other authors in the book as well – it’ll be a much more diverse landscape. Within farms, there’ll be bees and trees and nuts and vegetables – getting into much more of a permaculture or a farm-forest.

So the landscape in New Zealand as we know – the rolling farms – it’s going to have to change. If we don’t do it, what’s the risk of getting it wrong?

If we don’t do it, we’ve already gone wrong. And the biggest value-add we have, the most important thing for our exports is our clean, green image. It’s way and above any technological things we can do. That’s the most valuable thing to us, and we’re imperilling that at the moment. We’re lucky, because people still believe we’re clean and green, even though we aren’t. And so we need to get back to being clean and green before we get caught out.

Full transcript at Scoop.


Leave a comment


  1. Gerrit

     /  25th November 2018

    Wonder if urban water run off ever get tested. The rainwater that washes our roofs and roads clean, taking the contaminants into the local creeks, streams, rivers, lakes and estuaries.

    From the urban roads there must be tons of brake dust, rubber tire particles, cigarette butts, etc. in every droplet flowing towards the sea. Not to mention particulates from every vehicle exhaust.

    And from every roof bird droppings, aircraft jet fuel particulates, industrial exhaust stacks contaminants, etc.

    Not to mention every time we apply chemicals to wash our urban houses, cars. driveways, and outdoor furniture and decks.

    Leaching from landfill is another major contributor to urban fresh water contamination, as is new building and construction earthworks.

    Water contamination is not just from farms. urban streams are actually worse

    “The Environment Ministry’s landmark Our Fresh Water 2017 report concluded New Zealand’s most degraded streams were in urban areas.”


    Containing river floods has dire consequences as well.

    “Physical changes to rivers reduce how floodplains (and associated lakes and wetlands) are
    connected to rivers, which affects flood pulses. A flood pulse is the periodic flooding of a
    river, and is considered to be good for a river’s ecosystem. It aids in dispersing seeds,
    establishing plants, cycling nutrients, scouring, depositing sediments, and maintaining the
    richness of species”.

    Click to access our-fresh-water-2017-executive-summary.pdf

    Just blaming the farming sector is not going to solve the water quality problem.

    • David

       /  25th November 2018

      True, its always the waterways by urban areas that is the worst quality. I think Fonterra belatedly have been doing the right thing for a number of years as has the farming community.
      There is a lot to be positive about but its one of those queer occasions where a change of government even though they havent done anything is the reason for less panic that we are all going to die from e coli and there wont be a fish left after 2023.

  2. Maggy Wassilieff

     /  25th November 2018

    No mention of Production Forestry there..

    Come and see the stuffed-up rivers in the East Coast.

  3. Seabird

     /  25th November 2018

    It is all very well for academics like Joy to spout too many cows etc.etc. But none of these people come up with alternatives for farmers to make a living for their families and the country that is any better from what we are doing now. The only reason we have as many dairy farms in New Zealand is that is what pays the bills and makes the most money for the country. This is the market signals that anyone in business follows. If these people knew any better then there would be all sorts of proposals coming forward as alternatives for what we are doing now, but there are not. and planting trees on our productive farmland will not do it!

    • Gezza

       /  25th November 2018

      It is all very well for academics like Joy to spout too many cows etc.etc. But none of these people come up with alternatives for farmers to make a living for their families and the country that is any better from what we are doing now.

      Well, I watched the video, and he did.

  4. Gerrit

     /  25th November 2018

    Wonder if the 3 down tickers are trying to solely blame dairy for water quality and any mention of other water contamination sources is heresy?

    Are they Green party members against dairy?

    More urban water contamination from an outdated sewerage systems.


    If we only the country had kept the Waterview tunnel boring machine, the city could have drilled a massive sewerage central interceptor from Avondale to Mangere to handle all sewerage/strormwater overflows.

    Just imagine if the country had bought the tunnel boring machine, it could be perpetually use for drilling rail and road projects through the Kaimai’s, Brenderwyn’s, Rimutaka’s Southern Alps, etc.

    A large diameter tunnel not just for rail /road but to bring West Coast water to the parched Canterbury and Central Otago plains.

  5. artcroft

     /  25th November 2018

    Mike Joy is very extreme. No cars, no animal products. He has a very apocalyptic view of the future. He’ll be happy once the annihilation has begun and the human population is reduced to something not far north of zero.

  6. crarlie brown

     /  25th November 2018

    what about the poison drops from helicopters ?? . its been noted that there has been a deliberate attack on nz waterways just recently so there is no change from the govt depts and local health boards are allowing this to continue

    • If you’re talking about 1080 then I think that that neutralises in water.

    • Griff.

       /  25th November 2018

      1080 and water
      The Facts
      1080 is highly soluble in water and dilutes quickly [1]

      Laboratory analysis can detect 1080 in water at concentrations as low as 0.1 parts per billion (ppb) [2]
      Research by NIWA showed that 1080 deliberately placed in small streams for testing was undetectable after only 8 hours [3]

      The maximum amount of 1080 residue allowed in drinking water by the Ministry of Health’s is 2.0 ppb.This has never been breached. [4]

      As an indication of how stringent this regulation is, at the 2.0ppb level a 60 kg person would need to drink: 60,000 litres of water for a lethal dose of 1080.

      Water is routinely monitored after aerial application of 1080 in New Zealand and water samples are collected immediately after application when there is the highest possibility of detecting contamination. [5]

      Of 2442 water samples tested by Landcare Research between 1990 and May 2010

      96.5% had no detectable 1080
      Of all the samples taken over 20 years only 6 were equal to, or above the Ministry of Health level for drinking water and none of these came from drinking water supplies. [6]

      Of 592 samples taken from human or stock drinking supplies, only four contained detectable 1080 residues at 0.1ppb (1 sample) and 0.2 ppb (3 samples) – all well below the Ministry of Health level of 2 ppb. [7]

      Trials show that any aquatic and land plants that uptake 1080 rapidly metabolised it within a week. [8]

      Trials in four West Coast streams using 10 times the number of 1080 baits that would be expected to enter streams during aerial treatment showed no detectable effect on aquatic life in streams. [9]

      In separate studies in the United States and New Zealand 100% of fish fed 1080 baits survived and showed no ill effects. [10]

      A study in which meat from a possum that had died from 1080 poison was fed to eels found that all of the eels survived and none became ill. [11]

      A NIWA study found that koura (native fresh water crayfish) that ate 1080 baits did not die and showed no ill effects.

      The same study revealed that an 85kg person would need to consume the tail meat of about 2800 koura in a single sitting to have a 50% chance of receiving a lethal dose. [12]

      1080 the facts.
      A federated farmers and forest and bird joint initiative.

  7. Alan Wilkinson

     /  25th November 2018

    I wouldn’t believe anything Mike Joy says without testing and checking it against facts and data. He is careless with the truth and a lobbyist first, scientist second.


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