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Professor slams environmental performance report

Media Release
28 February 2008

Professor slams environmental performance report

A water quality expert at Waikato University has slammed the environmental progress report for the Clean Streams Accord as self-congratulatory.

Professor David Hamilton, a chair of Lakes Management at the University of Waikato said the levels of deforestation and water abstraction in dairy conversions, as well as intensification of the industry, were having a severe impact on waterways throughout New Zealand. That left a legacy of pollution and environmental degradation for future generations to pick up, and resulting in rapid deforestation.

“The levels of intensification of dairy, through increased numbers of cows per hectare and use of water and fertilisers are placing severe demands on New Zealand’s natural resources, some of which were being used unsustainably”.

The recently-released fourth progress report on the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord showed steady progress was being made towards the accord's targets in most areas, but some farmers were letting the side down.

The accord is an agreement between the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, the Ministry for the Environment, Fonterra Co-operative Group and Local Government New Zealand. Signed in May 2003, it aimed to achieve clean, healthy water in dairying areas. It covers streams, rivers, lakes, groundwater and wetlands.

Professor Hamilton said there had been a lack of leadership and information provided to farmers in environmental management by the industry.

The ‘put up a fence’ attitude hid underlying considerations required for the size and management of riparian buffers, as well as the non-point source pollution. In most cases it was nothing more than window dressing and there had been minimal progress since the Clean Streams Accord, he said.

Professor Hamilton believed most New Zealanders would be willing to accept dairy prices that were inflated if they knew that a good portion was being used to address the industry’s environmental problems.

“Instead, regional councils, who are dealing with multiple environmental problems relating to air, water and land, have the burden of undertaking prosecutions in an industry where around 15% to 30% of farmers are not complying with simple measures for surface water discharge of effluent.

“That level of non-compliance is only being sustained because the fines are inadequate and the industry has failed to chastise the offenders and deal with repeated non-compliance by exclusion.”

However, Professor Hamilton praised new Environment Waikato Chair and former Federated Farmers President Peter Buckley, for pinpointing and recognising the difficulty of dealing with diffuse pollution - often caused by cow dung and urine.

“But groundwater in some parts of the Rotorua lakes region now has nitrate levels 10 to 20 times above natural levels and is increasingly rapidly. Ongoing intensification of dairy in this region will have severe impacts on high value lakes, as is likely in many other parts of New Zealand.”

Professor Hamilton saved his most severe criticism, however, for the expansion of dairy in arid regions, particularly the east coast of the South Island. Intensive dairy in these regions was only possible through irrigation, he said. Enormous pivot irrigation schemes were denuding the landscape of any trees, and placed extreme demands on water and power.

“At around 10,000 liters of water used per cow per day for many of the irrigated schemes it is obvious that there is simply not enough water to go around as the industry keeps expanding”.

Professor Hamilton also criticised the Government for lack of leadership. “Government and the dairy industry have been prepared to sit back and say that self-regulation will work. It isn’t and regulation and leadership are required urgently”.


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