The Ministry of Environment report on water quality shows most of our popular coastal swimming spots are fine for swimming most of the time but there are many freshwater swimming spots which should be avoided.
The immediate response to this was criticism of farmers and “dirty dairying” in particular.
But farmingin genreal and dairying in particular are not the only culprits.
The New Zealand Herald editorial calls for more action from farmers but also points out:
. . . Oil and brake fluid released onto roads is carried by rains into stormwater drains and end up in streams. Too often in heavy rain wastewater systems overflow and add to the contamination. . .
I make no excuses for people who pollute waterways but some of the criticism levelled at farmers is unfair and where farming can be blamed, it’s not necessarily dairying that is causing problems.
The MfE data summary shows the Kakanui River at Clifton Falls as having poor water quality.
This is very near the intake for the rural water scheme which supplies the water we drink but it is upstream of any dairy farms.
Further down the Kakanui from Clifton Falls, below several sheep and dairy farms and some intensive horticulture, at the estuary the water quality is fair.
We’ve been working with the regional council to ensure we’re doing all we can on our farm to protect waterways. Tests showed high E-coli below a dam and it wasn’t our stock or farming practices which were to blame, it was water fowl.
Some water issues can be laid at the feet of human visitors too Ian Mackenzie, Federated Farmers water spokesman notes:
“Being a representative farmers’ organisation, we know our members cannot duck or hide that a number of these sites do fall in rural areas. Federated Farmers is aware of this and is why we are working across industry and with our own members to lift agriculture’s game.
“I know farmers ‘get it’ and this is why it is wrong to blame farming for everything. Doing that masks the reality there are very poor sites around settlements and near camp sites. . .
Some farmers still need to improve their practices but most recognise the need to protect waterways. Feds chief executive Conor English says:
. . . The focus needs to be on finding solutions, based on sound science and profitable and sustainable farming.
Farmers are custodians of the land and water, harvesting for the benefit of today and future generations. They want to leave it better than they found it.
While some still need to pull their socks up, farmers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars putting in effluent systems, excluding stock from waterways, measuring fertiliser and investing in more efficient irrigation. That investment has allowed export growth, earning money to pay the bills for hospitals, schools and other services. It provides jobs and has improved the environment.
Water-quality measures must include all those whose discharge into rivers . . .
Water quality concerns us all and improving it requires improvements in both rural and urban practices.