The Government may downsize dairy farms and limit herd sizes in order to protect New Zealand's clean, green image.
Farmers in Canterbury and Southland have been identified as major offenders in a 10-year stocktake of the environment that shows New Zealand's pure image is under threat. It was also revealed that nearly 2500 bird, plant and other species were under threat and a fifth of monitored groundwater was too contaminated to drink.
South Island intensive farming and rampant growth in dairying have been identified in the state of the environment report as key factors in decreasing water quality at a time when the country's other big industries are cleaning up their acts.
The situation was so dire the Government said yesterday it was considering regulations that could see farms shrink and limits on the size of dairy herds.
The findings, released in a 456-page report, showed streams, rivers and lakes near urban and farming areas had deteriorated, with up to 40 per cent of monitored spots no longer safe to swim in. More than 20% of monitored groundwater was unsafe to drink. New Zealanders used as much as three times more fresh water per person than other developed nations and water allocation had increased 50% since 1999.
The Canterbury and Otago regions accounted for almost three-quarters of the total national allocation of water, with 55% and 18% respectively.
Other black marks on New Zealand's report card included an ageing and increasingly dirty vehicle fleet, growing greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, overfishing and the increased threat from pests to rare native plants and wildlife.
The report said rates of new forest planting were at their lowest in many decades, and replanting rates had tailed off.
Kiwis were using more energy and an increasing amount of that energy was coming from fossil fuels.
On the positive side of the ledger, economic growth was faster than growth in energy demand, indicating businesses were becoming more efficient.
Ozone levels over New Zealand had stabilised, ultraviolet levels were dropping, beaches appeared to be cleaner and hill-country erosion was on the decline. Waste management was also improving, with most Kiwis now having access to kerbside recycling and the number of dump sites down from 230 to just 60.
Environment Minister Trevor Mallard said it was clear the Government needed to take further action in addition to the 2003 voluntary Dairying and Clean Streams Accord.
"What has become clear anecdotally and individually from this report is that we have had a serious decline in water quality over the years.
"We have a clean, green reputation which is justified, but we won't be able to hold on to it unless we take action."
There were a number of causes, including run-off from urban areas.
However, the biggest contributor had been intensive farming, especially dairying, Mallard said.
The report said average nutrient levels in urban and pastoral waterways breached the Australia and New Zealand Environment Committee guidelines for ecosystem protection.
It said that between 1996 and 2006, while the total area of New Zealand under pasture had declined, the national dairy herd grew by 24%. The expansion in deer and dairy farming had been particularly evident in Canterbury and Southland.
Data in the report showed that while the number of dairy farms in the North Island and nationally had declined, the number in the South Island had grown from 2035 in 1994 to 2448 in 2005.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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