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Nitrate challenge being addressed – more action to come

Contrary to Forest & Bird’s recent claim that Environment Canterbury has been ignoring calls from health and environmental NGOs to address nitrate concentrations, the regional council has been prioritising action on this important challenge for many years.

“We have long acknowledged the risk to ecological health – and potentially also to human health – that excessive nitrate in our waterways can pose,” said Deputy Chair Peter Scott. “That is why we have not waited to take action.

Environment Canterbury’s role

“Environment Canterbury’s role is to maintain water quality throughout the region, something we take very seriously,” Peter Scott said. “We are addressing the nitrate challenge by imposing regulations on farming practices and nitrogen loss to water. This is done by setting nitrogen leaching limits on individual farms.

“We have controls on land-use activities that could threaten water quality. We have some of the strictest farming rules in the country. Farmers must operate within strict nitrogen leaching limits and adhere to industry agreed good management practices.

“Higher-risk farming types must measure and manage nitrogen leaching via a consent to farm. They must also have a farm environment plan and their performance against this plan is graded by independent auditors.”

Aligning with national standards

Environment Canterbury’s rule framework – including proposed Plan Change 7 to the Land & Water Regional Plan which the regional council notified recently - is based on the best available scientific research and aligns with national standards and guidelines.

“It is the Ministry of Health’s role to undertake research and revise or set drinking water standards,” Peter Scott said. “We must always meet these standards, which we are doing and will continue to do in future. We recently wrote to the Minister of Health asking that the Government and officials prioritise efforts for more research and lead the community debate on nitrate in drinking water. We await the Minister’s response.”

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