Water quality tops public concerns

RACHEL YOUNG
Last updated 05:00 16/12/2013

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Water issues are top of Kiwi minds when asked what the most important problem facing the country's environment is.

The triennial Public Perceptions of New Zealand's Environment: 2013 survey found water-related issues were perceived to be the most important problem facing the environment.

Respondents indicated that growth in production and consumption, as well as an intensification of activities including farming and forestry were putting increasing pressure on the environment.

Rivers, lakes, and groundwater were the worst-managed environments mainly because of negative perceptions concerning the management of farm effluent and runoff.

The survey, conducted by three Lincoln University lecturers of 2200 people, asked questions across a wide range of environmental categories including air quality, native plants and biodiversity.

Report co-author Ken Hughey said water was the top issue for New Zealanders.

Fifty-six per cent of respondents believed farming was the main cause of fresh water damage, compared with about 26 per cent in the 2000 survey.

"That increase has been consistent every single year," he said. "There's more evidence of people being concerned about issues around farming."

Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills said there was no question farming had an impact on the environment, and in some areas the "pendulum has gone too far".

"Farmers are absolutely stepping up to these concerns with a lot of work around finding better solutions so that we can continue farming profitably . . . But with a smaller environmental impact."

Wills hoped the next report would be more favourable.

The survey found, on average, Kiwis perceived the state of the natural environment to be adequate or good and that New Zealand was perceived to be "clean and green".

Air, native bush and forests were considered to be in the best condition, while rivers and lakes, and marine fisheries were perceived to be in the worst state.

Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson said New Zealanders were increasingly aware of environmental issues, particularly around waterways.

"We want every waterway to be swimmable, fishable and safe for food gathering."

The survey provided "incredibly powerful" data that political parties should look at carefully as it showed what Kiwis cared about, he said.

Hughey said science backed up perceptions on freshwater, but ideas about the state of the country's biodiversity were not backed up in reality.

"Most respondents considered the condition of New Zealand's native plants and animals to be 'adequate' or 'good', yet past reports from organisations such as DOC and the Ministry for the Environment suggest otherwise, and significantly so," he said.

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