Fence up the farms

UNFENCED FARMS: Cows line up along the edge of an unfenced farm property where they are just one hoof away from falling into the upper Wairua River.
UNFENCED FARMS: Cows line up along the edge of an unfenced farm property where they are just one hoof away from falling into the upper Wairua River.

Effluent from farms in Whangarei District is suffocating the Northern Wairoa River and depleting fish stocks in the Kaipara Harbour, pollution campaigner Millan Ruka says.

Mr Ruka, chairman of the Environment River Patrol Northland Trust, has canoed up and down the Whakapara, Mangakahia, Waiotu and Wairua rivers for the past two years. All connect to the Northern Wairoa.

"It's heavily polluted all the way down. I had tears in my eyes because there was just all this effluent coming downstream," the 61-year-old says.

ROTTING AWAY IN THE RIVER: Millan Ruka photographed this drowned Jersey cow in the Wairua River on one of his travels.
ROTTING AWAY IN THE RIVER: Millan Ruka photographed this drowned Jersey cow in the Wairua River on one of his travels.

His photographic evidence shows dead cows floating in the river, livestock defecating and large amounts of waste along mud banks.

Mr Ruka says he saw unfenced farms for at least 25km along the combined Waiotu, Whakapara and Wairua rivers and in the lower Ti- Toki region less than 10 percent had fencing.

"The consequences of what happens up river comes down past Dargaville and that's what is important for the people to know. If people could see what enters these waters, I don't think they would want to put their toes in, let alone swim in it."

Mr Ruka says his mission is to get the Northland Regional Council to enforce the laws and make farmers fence their properties.

He has taken his evidence to the council and has sought legal advice. He says the Resource Management Act can prevent farmers from polluting rivers.

If the council decides not to do anything he says he will post the photos online for all to see just how bad the situation is.

Mr Ruka says eel stocks have declined massively in the rivers, which he says is a warning bell as "they are the canary of the coalmine".

Mr Ruka says he didn't see troughs nearby either.

Dr Mike Joy, director of the centre for freshwater ecosystem management and modelling at Massey University, says the effects on the environment from effluent run-off into our rivers and streams is two-fold.

First, it adds nutrients and in turn grows algae and weeds which use up the oxygen putting fish and streamlife at risk. Secondly, disease and pathogens in the effluent can introduce water borne diseases.

Mr Joy says the problem is a national issue. A report by the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research says 90 percent of waterways have failed requirements for pathogens and more than 90 percent don't meet nutrient guidance levels.

Mr Joy says the problem is that regional councils aren't forcing farmers to fence properties along rivers.

"The Resource Management Act clearly states you must not do anything that has a negative effect on the environment but the regional councils are too weak and political to implement it."

Regional council monitoring senior programme manager Riaan Elliot says the body has no rules to require fencing of streams.

"The rules do not require it and the Fonterra accord is voluntary.

"In terms of a policy review the council's revised regional policy statement is soon to be advertised for public submissions."

This is an opportunity for people to have its say in relation to rules surrounding fencing of streams.

Dargaville News