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Kiwis wary of irrigation impacts on waterways

Kiwis wary of irrigation impacts on waterways

A new independent survey shows an overwhelming majority of Kiwis don’t want large-scale irrigation schemes and intensive agriculture expansion if there is failure to protect downstream waterways so that they remain safe for swimming, fishing and food gathering.

The ‘Farming and the Environment Survey’ of 3134 respondents aged 18+ was commissioned by Fish & Game NZ and conducted independently by Horizon Research Limited, with a margin of error of just ±1.8%.

Fish & Game NZ chief executive Bryce Johnson says while the organisation’s primary interest relates to the habitat of trout and salmon and the pursuits of freshwater angling and game bird hunting which are enjoyed by many thousands of New Zealanders, this research proves that Fish & Game and the wider public are united when it comes to freshwater issues.

“The sole focus on ramping up primary sector growth, whatever the costs, has put the economy on a collision course with the environment and public opinion,” he says.

“What this research shows is that nine out of 10 New Zealanders fundamentally link their Kiwi identity and lifestyle to their natural environment. It also exposes that a very clear risk of losing support exists for political parties which introduce policies promoting economic growth without guaranteed safeguards to protect the environment.”

A majority 67% of respondents say they are prepared to see large-scale irrigation schemes proceed to facilitate the growth of intensive dairy farming, but only if ‘scientific evidence proves that measures are in place to ensure downstream waterways will not be adversely affected’.

“Presently we have a number of large-scale irrigation projects being proposed by Government and regional councils with scant regard being given to the adverse environmental consequences that invariably result from the change in land use, especially downstream water pollution including estuaries and coastal areas,” Mr Johnson points out.

“The ‘precautionary principle’ is being conveniently ignored here and this negligence is going to leave a legacy of pollution for future generations.”

The poll also found an overwhelming 74% of respondents do not want regional councils to allow new agricultural development and expansion ‘if it restricts public use and makes waterways unsafe for swimming, fishing and food gathering’.

Currently the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council is pushing the Ruataniwha irrigation project which, if given the go-ahead, will facilitate massive intensive dairy expansion and, through a permissive regional plan, allow toxic levels of nitrogen in the Tukituki River.

Similar large-scale irrigation development is being promoted in Greater Wellington with the regional council driving the Wairarapa Water Use Project.

Asked whether regional councils would be fundamentally conflicted in having responsibility for protecting freshwater quality whilst promoting large-scale irrigation development to enable intensive dairying, 86% of those who had a view agreed.

“New Zealanders want regional councils to stick to their knitting – protecting natural resources, including freshwater – rather than promoting environmentally destructive infrastructure projects and environmentally unsustainable industry expansion,” Mr Johnson says.

“There are some very simple and clear message here on what the New Zealand public value and expect in relation to their rivers, streams, lakes and coastal waters.”


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