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Lake Taupo Issue Shows Need For New Set Of Rights

29 MAY 2000 For immediate use


The conflict over whether dairy farming should be curbed to protect the clear waters of Lake Taupo highlights the need for a review of rural property rights in New Zealand, the Ecologic Foundation said today.

Environment Waikato last week proposed restrictions on dairy, sheep and beef farmers to combat rising nitrogen levels in the lake, caused partly by farm run-off. If left unmanaged, the increasing nitrogen levels would threaten the lake’s water quality.

“Many farmers believe they still hold the set of property rights they had more than a century ago, which included the right to clear native forest, erode the hills and discharge contaminants into rivers and lakes,” said Guy Salmon, Ecologic’s executive director.

“As a result, dairy farmers in the Lake Taupo catchment bought farms in the expectation they could discharge nitrogen into the lake, and many sheep and beef farmers are looking forward to a speculative capital gain from selling for dairy conversions.”

Mr Salmon said he did not agree with claims from Federated Farmers and the ACT Party that farmers should be compensated for refraining from polluting the environment. Nor did he believe that simply regulating in the face of farmer’s honest beliefs about their rights was tenable.

“This is typical of the sour stand-off we have on so many rural issues. The way out of it is by a middle road.

“We need a dialogue process in which the basic rights and obligations of landowners in this country are reviewed and, as part of that, some financial assistance is forthcoming from central government to help landowners with the out-of-pocket costs of complying with a new, sustainable set of property rights.”

He said this issue ought to be commanding the attention of central government, and needed a combined approach from the Ministers of Environment, Conservation and Agriculture.

“One thing is certain - New Zealanders will not tolerate a national icon like Lake Taupo being turned into a cesspool, like so many lakes in overseas countries.”

Mr Salmon said Environment Waikato was to be congratulated for getting in early, when there were still only four dairy farms in the catchment of the lake, and making it clear that further dairy conversions would be unacceptable.

For further information please contact Guy Salmon 025 201 3033

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