Anti-farming bias won’t wait for facts

Contamination of Havelock North’s water supply is a serious health issue which has prompted the government to undertake an inquiry.

In announcing the draft terms of reference for it, Attorney General Christopher Finlayson said:

“It is important that New Zealanders have confidence in the quality of our drinking water, and the independent inquiry will ensure we have a clear understanding of what happened in Havelock North,” says Mr Finlayson.

“Cabinet has today agreed to initiate a Government inquiry which will report to me as Attorney General.

“The inquiry will look into how the Havelock North water supply became contaminated, how this was subsequently addressed and how local and central government agencies responded to the public health threat that occurred as a result of the contamination.

“The terms of reference are very wide and will include any lessons and improvements that can be made in the management of the water supply network in Havelock North and, more broadly, across New Zealand.”     

Cabinet will consider over the coming weeks who will lead the Government inquiry.

The inquiry will be undertaken under the Inquiries Act 2013. This will ensure it follows a clear statutory process and will have a range of powers such as the ability to call witnesses.

The need to wait for facts hasn’t stopped the usual anti-farming suspects rushing to blame farming in general and dairying in particular for the contamination and using it as an excuse to call for the end to irrigation development.

Federated Farmers’  Hawke’s Bay president Will Foley said while there was some livestock farming in the area it wasn’t intensive:

. . . Basically in terms of the area around Havelock North there just isn’t intensive livestock farming.

He said farmers were watching the situation but there had not been any discussions yet.

“Really we’re just waiting to see some more clear evidence as to how the contamination occurred. And then if it was something related to farming livestock, then we can react to it then and I guess change practises if that’s what it turns out to be.”

IrrigationNZ points out that a focus on science and proven solutions is needed in the response to the Havelock North water crisis.

“IrrigationNZ is very concerned, as is everyone else, about the situation in Havelock North. However, we are surprised by some of the accusations now being made around intensive livestock and irrigation, particularly as the area surrounding the water supply well is dominated by orchards, cropping and low intensity livestock.”

“Before jumping to conclusions we first must understand the facts. A thorough inquiry will establish how groundwater in the area has become contaminated but this will take time. In the short term we should be moving towards best practice when it comes to protecting public water supplies from contamination,” says Andrew Curtis, IrrigationNZ CEO.

Fact 1;

Pathogen contamination almost always results from a point source or a preferential flow scenario.

“The issue will likely be either a preferential flow scenario down the side of an old well case (particularly around older bore casings), a poorly constructed or sealed well head or backflow (contamination making its way directly into bores). Another scenario could be point source from the stock piling of manure. During periods of heavy downpour, contaminants can move through the soil and then there is a risk,” says Mr Curtis.

Fact 2;

Grazing livestock or irrigation are unlikely to be the cause.

“The Havelock North end of the Heretaunga plains is an area of low intensity livestock. Dominated by orchards and seasonal cropping, with sheep grazing in winter there is no dairy or intensive livestock,” says Andrew Curtis.

Livestock grazing is extremely unlikely to have caused this issue – the pathogens don’t make it through the soil, the soil acts as a filter – research work undertaken by ESR has previously shown this to be true.”

Solutions to prevent contamination of groundwater?

Proven solutions include good management practice at both the supply point and any nearby wells.

“Well head protection is essential for all bores and this needs to be better enforced for older bores. Additionally, we need to be looking at requiring back flow protection where applicable. INZ has produced guidelines for backflow prevention that are based on international best practice for agriculture. On top of this, the council needs to be managing nearby point sources where, if heavy rain occurs, leaching could result. Basically all wells near public water supplies should be properly protected.”

“A best practice approach to managing the threats to public water supplies needs to be implemented across New Zealand. There will always be risks from avian, ruminant and human sources so we need to be identifying all the contamination pathways. We need to let the experts get on with their jobs and not take cheap shots with un-informed accusations,” says Mr Curtis.

It’s understandable for the people of Havelock North to be upset about their water and everyone wants to know what caused the problem and what can be done to prevent it happening again in the area or anywhere else.

But that’s not an excuse for the usual suspects to use the issue for their own political agenda without waiting for the facts. In doing so they’re show their anti-farming bias.

We could forget about feeding people and earning the export income we need for a happy, healthy, well functioning country as those of a very dark green persuasion would have it.

We could produce a lot more food and seriously degrade the environment with no concern for the future, a path for which I haven’t heard anyone advocate.

Or we could use science to produce food sustainably which requires good environmental practices based on science.

If poor farming practices are degrading the water we can do something about it but let’s wait for the inquiry and base any required action on the facts.


4 Responses to Anti-farming bias won’t wait for facts

  1. Mr E says:

    Agree Ele,

    A useful exercise is to go onto google earth and type in the road name and location of the well in.

    174 Brookvale Road, Havelock North

    The zoomed out view shows the area as largely horticulture.

    It is hard to find any dairy anywhere.

    The street view, travelling out of town shows the 3 well heads on the right hand side. The mushroom farm can be seen adjacent to the 1st well head. There is not a cow to be seen in direct vicinity.

    Nobody should be jumping to conclusions, as the possibilities are a many.

    I have seen some misguided attention towards dairying lately that has back fired. People should be aware that the dairy industry is becoming less tolerant of unfair attacks.


  2. The silver lining is that most voters aren’t stupid. They hear Mike Joy, Dr Death, the Green Party and others blaming dairy farming and the Tukituki River when the few facts which are already known point to this being unlikely. They hear these guys contradict other reports and wonder who is right and so the inquiry will be interesting.


  3. Paul Scott says:

    Thanks Mr. E, and James above for the update on relevant factors.
    I agree with Mr. E that the dairy industry can fight back at the Green haters, and soft brained academia who have of industry, science and rural work force,


  4. JC says:

    My in-laws retired from farming to the Havelock area within a Km or so of the bore site and I spent many a vacation over 20 years happily jogging around the outskirts of the town around Te Mata, the Tukituki river and the rural roads.

    From Sept to May the overwhelming colour of the ground can be a light gold underlain with the dry grey soil showing through in the drought.. the FiL kept his hand in with a few dry sheep to keep the thistles down on his handful of acres.

    The Tukituk river isn’t a bad one as HB rivers go.. it actually has quite a lot of water in it year round. In fact, just a few miles from the Tukituk bridge is one of the more famous farm forestry farms.. its adjacent to the river and is a sheep farm in which the land use has been decided on a rational land use and financial basis.. instead of being 95% sheep its about 30% forestry and the rest in sheep and conservation areas.

    In short the farm represents pretty much what the whole area is about.. its dry sheep farming country with (should be) a huge tree area to make it pay.

    I think the first consideration we can make is dairying is extremely unlikely to be a problem for public water in the area. Whilst I’m sure that people can produce photos of cattle standing in the Tukituk I’m just as sure the volume of fecal material versus river flow makes a nonsense of that being the cause of the gastro problems.. if this were untrue then thousands of Havelock residents would be affected every year.

    The same argument applies to sheep.. so if all these animals are suddenly a problem then just as suddenly something must have happened to make them a problem after 150 years of farming.

    Fortunately we already know exactly what caused the Havelock contamination.. it wasn’t animals, it wasn’t some terrorist inspired contamination and it wasn’t a million other causes which are all possible but just one..

    ..lack of chlorination brought about by smug stupid people without a clue on human history.



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