Grandparenting rule in plan change will reward polluters
OPINION: Freshwater and the environment is at the forefront of conversations around New Zealand and will certainly become an election issue.
The public, media, non-government organisations and even politicians fail to understand and focus on what's really in behind some of New Zealand's deteriorating water quality.
Regional approaches and policies are failing to manage intensive land uses and in some cases are actually creating management frameworks which protect and provide incentives for intensive farming to the detriment of not only the environment but also other more sustainable farming land uses.
In fact the effect of the government's national policy on freshwater management is seeing some regional councils allocating pollution rights to farmers.
This approach is called grandparenting.
This is based around historical use of nitrogen (N) by giving each property an N discharge allowance (referred to as an NDA).
Nutrient budgets by Overseer software are then used to assess the nitrogen each property was deemed to be leaching over a set period of historical years of production.
As a result, the high leachers of nitrogen are allowed to carry on leaching nitrogen in an unsustainable manner.
Nitrogen finds its way into our waterways through the soil profile or overland flow and grandparenting effectively protects intensive farming systems.
Drystock farmers, low nitrogen leaching and organic dairy farmers on the other hand have their nitrogen leaching capped at low levels as they historically leach less nitrogen.
This locks them into a situation which gives no flexibility for future farming system development or change in land use.
The low leachers of nitrogen become the whipping boys by providing clean water to dilute the high leachers' pollution.
The use of grandparenting as a principle to drive regulation has no science base. It's a crude expedient mechanism, a synthetic dial up approach to manage nitrogen which is unsustainable and morally wrong. Grandparenting simply rewards the polluters.
The principle of grandparenting to drive regulation has been used by the Canterbury Regional Council and has now been notified by the Waikato Regional Council to drive Healthy Rivers Waipa Waikato Plan Change 1.
And we don't have to look any further than Canterbury to see the evidence over five years with their regional council adopting a grandparenting type approach as the starting point to drive regulation.What once were swimmable rivers have deteriorated and one of the main contributors is N contamination.
It is so bad, that in some of the rivers and coastal areas of Canterbury there is a nutrient overload causing algal blooms, a significant threat to human health.
This is simply because the high N leachers have been able to carry on leaching N. This, combined with irrigation on leaky soils, has led to this sad situation which is now threatening New Zealand's clean green reputation.
Now the Waikato Regional Council through Healthy Rivers Plan Change 1 is heading down the same track.
Our government has failed to take the necessary action to ensure that those who are polluting water are faced with the cost of cleaning it up, and essentially through a failure to act or provide leadership is supporting the exploitation and degradation of our natural resources.
In Waikato following the notification of plan change 1, there has been an uprising by farmers against PC1 using grandparenting to drive regulation.
These farmers are mainly drystock farmers, low N leaching and organic dairy farmers. Groups have been formed across the Waikato to fight PC1, including Farmers For Positive Change (F4PC), Primary Land Users Group (PLUG), King Country River Care (KCRC) and Sustainable Vibrant Communities Awareness Group (SVCAG).
These groups represent in excess of 3000 farmers with numbers growing.
These groups want central government to outlaw grandparenting and to incentivise policy and regulation for the common good of our communities, our farm systems and the environment.
They are promoting a sub-catchment approach, by empowering farmers and communities to work together to drive an improvement in fresh water quality. This requires an understanding of what level of contaminants are in their local tributaries and streams.
They are also promoting that farmers implement a farm environment plan to give them an understanding of their land use suitability then take ownership and responsibility for contaminants leaving their farms.
In some cases this may result in changes in land use to ensure landscapes are managed in a sustainable manner to ensure our natural resources are preserved for generations to come.
- Rick Burke is the chairman of Farmers for Positive Change