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.

 

Who’s to blame for river health?

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.

Newshub: Special report: The blame game over NZ river health

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.

– Newshub.