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.

 

Time to act on water quality

Problems with water availability and quantity are of increasing concern in New Zealand.

Today’s NZ Herald editorial: Urgent need to act on our water supply

Trucks are delivering water to parched vineyards in Marlborough. As river levels dip in the hottest months, water quality falls. Warning signs beside freshwater lagoons at Piha, Karekare and Bethells because of overloaded septic tanks are a familiar summer sight.

Toxic algae has been detected at 15 freshwater sites in Canterbury. North of Christchurch, people who draw water from rural supplies with shallow intakes must permanently boil water used for drinking, oral hygiene and food preparation.

The signs are not positive.

Six years ago, the Government asked the Land and Water Forum to create a plan for freshwater management. The forum, which draws together 67 organisations and is meant to work collaboratively, has made dozens of recommendations in a series of reports on how best to manage water.

In its fourth and latest document, issued in November, the forum pleaded for action, warning that without some concrete steps water quality would continue to deteriorate, and the country would further squander what the forum rightly calls a national treasure and strategic asset.

Forum chairman Alastair Bisley delivered a blunt message to Environment Minister Nick Smith and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy, reminding them that most of the previous 153 recommendations continued to gather dust.

Mr Bisley pointedly noted that the forum’s very first recommendation in its new report was to implement all the others “and do that as soon as possible”.

All New Zealanders expect reliable access to clean water. The economy rests on its assured supply. As many as 200,000 jobs – in dairying, horticulture and tourism – directly depend on water.

The Government has been handed all it needs to make their livelihoods secure and protect a renewable asset. It ought to act soon.

From the Land and Water Forum:

In February 2015 Ministers for the Environment and Primary Industries asked the Forum to assist the Government with further development and delivery of water policy reform.

On 27 November 2015 the Forum released the Fourth Report of the Land and Water Forum (pdf, 2.5MB) on how to maximise the economic benefits of freshwater while managing within water quality and quantity limits that are set consistent with the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management 2014 (NPS-FM). It also recommends exclusion of livestock from waterways on plains and lowland hills, addresses a number of urban issues and suggests tools and approaches to assist the Crown’s exploration of rights and interests with iwi.

From the Fourth report:

Fresh water is however a resource that has come under increasing pressure over the last 20 years. In our first report, we noted that although it is still good overall and rates well internationally, both its quality and its availability have been declining, especially in lowland areas, as land use has intensified and our population has grown.

We have made significant progress in dealing with point source discharges, but diffuse discharges remain an issue, and some urban and pastoral waterways remain highly polluted.

Many catchments are overallocated with contaminants.

Lags mean that impacts of present and past practices may not reveal themselves for some time, while. Climate change will increase our difficulties.

Poorer water quality adversely affects biodiversity, aquatic ecosystems, invasive species and in-stream uses,. impacting our health and our amenities.

The report makes a number of recommendations, starting with:

Recommendation 1: The government should complete implementing the Forum’s recommendations from its three previous reports as soon as possible. Unless otherwise explicitly stated in this report, those earlier recommendations remain unchanged.

Increasing land production and population will keep putting more pressure on water resources. This may be accentuated by affects of climate change.

Water availability and quality are fundamental requirements. Government should be doing whatever it can to provide these.

Teacher quality versus class size

It’s easy to sell a smaller class size policy. On the surface it seems a no-brainer. First points to Labour (and the teacher unions).

But would pupils and their parents choose (smaller) class size over the quality of teacher?

I know from my own experience as a pupil, and as a parent of pupils, that in hoping for or pushing for a particular class the teacher was always the primary consideration.

Would I choose a poor teacher with a class of 20 or a great teacher with a class of 25? 30?

If parents and pupils could choose their class then crap teachers would have tiny classes and the best teachers would have the biggest classes.

Teacher quality versus class size will be an interesting debate through this election campaign.