Some farmers, unfortunately, haven’t got themselves in to the 21st century and still think they can do what they want on their land regardless of the impact on neighbouring waterways.
But most of us want the water we drink, swim in, wash with and live beside to be clean.
The debate for most of us isn’t over the desirability of and necessity for healthy lakes, rivers, streams and ponds. It’s how to clean up those which need it and ensure those which are clean stay that way.
Jon Morgan writes how he changed his tune on cleaning up waterways:
I began the year as the dairy farmers’ friend, saying they were doing all they could to clean up waterways.
I reeled off a list of on-farm actions they were taking to keep waterways clean. I quoted figures from the most recent report of the Clean Streams Accord, among them that cattle were fenced off from waterways on 84 per cent of farms.
Then I found this figure was wrong. Naively, perhaps, I did not realise that the accord relies on farmers’ honesty to report their own progress toward the agreement’s targets. . .
On the North Otago downlands, water quality isn’t left up to farmers’ honesty. All shareholders in the North Otago Irrigation Company are required to have an environmental farm plan which is independently audited each year. If the plan isn’t up to scratch and in practice the farm will lose its irrigation water.
In areas blessed with more regular rainfall the threat of losing water can’t be used to encourage high standards but I’d have thought the powers regional councils have to act against anyone who doesn’t comply would be sufficient deterrent.
However, Morgan, like many others, thinks that’s not enough.
. . . I changed my tune. I said: “It seems obvious to me that we have too many cows in the most sensitive parts of the country – sandy, shingly, free-draining areas laced with streams, close to groundwater and big recreational rivers.
“And I think there’s no doubt that these cows are the main source of the excessive nutrients that are polluting rivers and lakes in these regions.
“The simple solution is to regulate a reduction in cow numbers.” . .
Simple solutions aren’t always the best.
Those with no concern for the environmental consequences of their farming could do a lot of damage with small herds, others might be able to run larger herds with good practices which don’t endanger water quality.
The problem is, there is debate about how realistic some of the standards expected for lakes, rivers, creeks and streams are; the the tools for measuring the quality of them and how much any degradation is due to farming and how much is due to other factors including birds and nitrogen leaching from gorse.
Morgan ends his column by pointing out water quality isn’t only a rural problem, some urban areas are in serious need of upgrades to their sewage plants.
That isn’t an excuse for getting away with poor practices in rural areas but it does show if we want clean water it’s an urban challenge too.