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DOC's draft report was just that

DOC's draft report was just that

Bruce Wills is Federated Farmers President and a version of this was printed in Bruce Wills’ regular Manawatu Standard column on 24 September

As a Board Member of the World Farmers Organisation, I was recently asked to speak at World Water Week in Stockholm.  Before farmers assail me about extravagant spending, it is one of the rare occasions where the United Nations covered my travel costs.  Disproving the vision of extravagance some have about the UN, my flight home was on Jetstar.

Yet it was an amazing experience being at such a huge international conference and speaking about water from the perspective of global farming.  I was among some 2,700 delegates but according to the World Farmers Organisation’s, Marco De Marinis, I was the only farmer present.  It was eye opening to see and hear what is going on around the world so it was a shame no New Zealand media were there, despite water being a big discussion point here.  It was also with a degree of relief that New Zealand is seen to be a leader by the international community.  It opened my eyes to learn that 800 million people around the world have no access to basic sanitation.

In contrast, our bathing quality scores are a tool to assess risk. If you swim at a ‘very good' spot, you face a one percent chance of coming down with a skin infection and a lesser chance of a tummy bug. Swim at a ‘very poor' site and your risks increase to five percent for a skin infection and roughly half that for a tummy bug. 

Here, the margins between very good and very poor aren’t huge but they are infinitely better than in many other countries.  When I returned to New Zealand I gave thanks for how blessed we are because our rivers aren’t fetid toxic soups.  Perhaps some need to travel more, but generally speaking, it rains here, that rain feeds grass and then we convert that grass into food and fibre we then export

We also know the wider effects of this year’s drought from the trade deficit for the June quarter, which saw a near half-billion dollar fall in dairy and meat exports.

One obvious solution to a lack of water over summer is to store rainfall.  The Hawke’s Bay, where I farm, averages over 800mm of rain each year but is still prone to drought.  The region has been in the news given discussion over a draft Department of Conservation (DoC) report on the proposed Ruataniwha Water Storage Scheme.

I am nervous about treating a draft written by a nameless DoC staff member as if it was the final product.  Ian Mackenzie, Federated Farmers Environment spokesperson, perhaps put things the best saying, “I would have thought our politicians would have learned from the recent C. botulinum scare that the only report which counts is the final one”.

As the President of Federated Farmers I read many draft reports and submissions.  These come to me after undergoing our policy team’s own internal quality control and there are very few I express unease about.  That there is the occasional one, simply underlines the nature of what ‘draft’ means and having the steps in place to catch them. 

As a Hawke’s Bay sheep and beef farmer I know a fair bit about what Ruataniwha could mean economically and environmentally.

If we truly want to stop the Tukituki from “running green,” as one florid piece of media reporting went, then backing district council upgrades of wastewater plants is the obvious place to start.  The Section 32 report on Ruataniwha says that up to 70 percent of phosphorous (P) loading at times of low flow in the Tukituki comes from the four wastewater treatment ponds servicing the towns of Waipukurau, Waipawa, Otane and Takapau.

So what reports should we be discussing?  Can I suggest Googling the mountain of information now available from Hawke’s Bay Regional Council’s website, or, as evidence submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  Why are we treating a draft DoC report more seriously than say the evidence of NIWA or Aquanet Consulting you can read right now?  I would also encourage doubters to Google Canterbury’s Opuha Dam because it defied the knockers by exceeding all environmental and economic expectations. 

Boosting Ruataniwha are TrustPower and Ngāi Tahu putting pen to paper to potentially fund up to 40 percent of the scheme’s capital cost.  That tells me TrustPower and Ngāi Tahu, like many farmers, see huge opportunity in Ruataniwha and water storage in general.  Given farmers are being told that the climate is changing, Ruataniwha seems vital infrastructure in that regard.  Unless dam opponents now say the climate isn’t changing.

Instead of talking about what a DoC report may have said about Ruataniwha, we need to focus on the mountain of easily accessible reports anyone can read for themselves. 


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