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Feds’ message to the government on water quality

A ‘one size fits all’, inflexible and punitive regulatory regime for water quality just gets backs - and costs - up and most importantly will not work, Federated Farmers says.

"We have consistently argued that farmers will get alongside and work with sensible, practical and affordable catchment-based solutions based on an accurate assessment of the actual water quality," Feds environment spokesperson Chris Allen says.

Environment Minister David Parker has said announcements on tighter regulations on the agricultural sector are imminent.

"We all want good, fresh water. All of us - farmers included - need, and have effects on, water quality whether we drink it, use it for some commercial purpose or recreate in it.

"The question is how you drive water quality improvements. There’s no doubt there is a place for rules and regulation, but they must take into account the circumstances of each catchment - soil types, land uses and community priorities to name a few," Allen said.

"We must keep up the momentum with the water quality improvements we are already seeing in many catchments, not cut across this with cumbersome, draconian, one-size-fits-all regulations."

Federated Farmers believes regional councils should be required to go through the nutrient limit setting process as per the current National Policy Statement, "with a stick approach to achieve it," Allen said.

"Some councils haven’t done it, and that’s a problem. If the reason is capacity issues for smaller councils, the government could help with resourcing. But we have to bear in mind that these processes are complex and take time."

On stock exclusion, the issue is about keeping stock out of water, not mandatory and arbitrary setbacks. A significant amount of work has already been done by farmers applying the appropriate method to achieve stock exclusion.

"In dairy districts, we should build on the Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord. Farmers have already invested huge amounts of time and effort, resulting in outcomes including stock being excluded from waterways on 97.5% of dairy farms, and more than 99.7% of regular stock crossing points on dairy farms now having bridges or culverts. We are seeing the improvements form this sort of work coming though. For example, a recent regional council report shows that water quality in Taranaki rivers is showing long-term improvement. Nearly half the rivers showed significant improvement, which has flowed from the stock exclusion, extensive riparian plantings farmers have done and changes to effluent disposal.

"There are now a lot of regional councils which do have good rules for stock exclusion, based on what is needed for their region. They are fit for purpose and farmers have gone on and are living with them. Councils that don’t have rules are a minority and need to get on with the job."

Any proposed changes should be underpinned by robust cost-benefit analysis and rather than bald measurements of attributes (nitrogen, turbidity, phosphorus, etc) the catchment-based improvement programmes should be geared around the values the local community rate as the priorities - for example, can you swim in it, can fish and macroinvertebrates thrive in it, Allen said.

"When we do issue national environmental reports, the findings should come with the full picture. What was the season like - hot, dry, wet…all of those things affect water quality and we need that context, not just bald numbers from a very limited number of sites."

Farmers would also like to see consistency in approach across the sectors, and appropriate recognition of where changes that have been made, whether by urban or rural sectors, that are delivering improvements to water quality.


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