The need for standards to ensure we have clean water for consumption and recreation is unquestioned.
How to keep it clean and improve sub-standard waterways is less straightforward.
“A radical feature of Canterbury’s Proposed Land and Water Regional Plan is consent to farm under nutrient discharge rules,” says Chris Allen, Federated Farmers Mid-Canterbury Provincial President.
“The big problem for any farmer, forester, wine maker or market gardener, revolves around incredibly tight tolerances for land use change. Most farmers, like me, will not have nitrogen leaching conditions on a water consent because sheep farmers tend to be dryland ones.
“The practical impact means a good lambing may increase stock by just a few animals. When running this through a nutrient management tool called Overseer, it may tell me my nitrogen loss has increased 10 percent. That triggers an uncertain resource consent process.
“As large parts of Canterbury are defined as ‘red zones,’ we know the proposed default decision on land use change will be to decline.
“So that leaves me with two stark choices that sicken me as a farmer. Either we carry less stock, underperforming productively and commercially, or some may be forced to dispose of lambs to remain compliant.
“That’s not farming. It is dumbly following numbers punched out by an imprecise tool. . .
Submitters on the Otago Regional Council’s proposed plan are equally concerned about its impact.
Further north Horizon’s One Plan will see all but extensive hill country farmers having to seek consent to farm.
There is real concern about the impact these plans will have on people’s ability to farm. One of the reasons for this is that the councils appear to be imposing rules when there are not practical tools to measure water quality in a way that would enable landowners to comply.
Drinking the water every day gives us a very real interest in its quality and only environmental Luddites argue with the intention to maintain clean water and where necessary improve it. But there are real fears that the plans are being over-zealous and that the quest for pure water will threaten the viability of farming.
Those voicing concern aren’t asking to for economic concerns to trump environmental ones. They are asking for a better balance between the two and for rules which will work in practice and take account of the tools available for compliance.