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Big Irrigation Consent Locks In Climate, Water, And Health Damage - Greenpeace

Greenpeace is today condemning a large-scale irrigation consent as ‘locking in overstocking of the land with dairy cows which is bad news for our climate, a guarantee of more water pollution and a risk to human health.’

Environment Canterbury has granted a replacement consent for the Mayfield-Hinds-Valetta (MHV) irrigation scheme to operate on 56,500 hectares of farmland between the Ashburton and Rangitata rivers.

MHV was originally granted consent to discharge an alarming 104 kilograms of nitrate per hectare, outraging locals and freshwater advocates.

Intensive dairying pollutes waterways and groundwater with nitrate-nitrogen due to run-off from cow urine and synthetic nitrogen fertiliser. Nitrate pollution in water can cause a range of health effects, including ‘blue baby’ syndrome in infants fed formula milk made with nitrate-polluted water. It has also been linked to increased rates of bowel cancers.

The current ‘safe’ level for nitrate-nitrogen pollution in drinking water is 11.3mg/L, but the link to increased rates of bowel cancers has been shown in international studies at as low as 0.87mg/L.

Greenpeace senior campaigner Steve Abel says the consent comes after a long history of central and local governments failing to properly regulate the dairy industry.

"Intensive dairying is a triple whammy: it’s fouling rivers, spewing out climate pollution and putting our health at risk. All of that has gone unchecked," says Abel.

"With all we know of how destructive this pollution is, ECan’s granting of this consent is just further proof that both central and local governments are putting dairy industry profits over the health of our communities.

"How many people have to get sick before central and local government act? We cannot keep farming like this if we want healthy communities, flourishing rivers and a safe and stable climate."

ECan granted the consent with the requirement that MHV achieve a 25 per cent reduction in nitrogen losses by 2030.

"A quarter less nitrate-nitrogen in ten year’s time is still a hell of a lot of nitrate pollution seeping into drinking water. This figure will be no comfort to the communities who are already legitimately concerned about drinking the water that comes out of their tap," says Abel.

The consent application was non-notified, meaning that the public were not able to have a say on it.

"The way New Zealand farms affects all of us, from water pollution to the climate crisis. It’s immensely frustrating and dangerous when even the most affected local communities can’t have their say on a consent like this," says Abel.

Greenpeace is calling on the Government to phase out synthetic nitrogen fertiliser and drop the limit for nitrate-nitrogen in water from 11.3mg/L to 0.87mg/L, in line with international research on nitrate pollution and bowel cancers.

"Everyone should be able to trust that the water from their tap is clean and safe to drink. It’s a sad state of affairs when New Zealanders can’t rely on their central or local governments to protect their health and the health of the land, water and climate," says Abel.

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