Council divided on water strategy

Last updated 06:13 26/11/2013

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Environment Southland councillors look set to go into battle over water quality, but not with farmers.

The council is divided on how to deal with the degrading of Southland rivers outlined in a damning report by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright.

While some are calling for the council to follow Dr Wright's suggestions of wintering cows inside, cutting the number of cows per hectare and cutting the number of farms in the area, councillor Marion Miller said the council was not in a position to tell farmers how to use their land.

"We can not tell people what to do on their land."

Her comments were backed up by councillors Ross Cockburn and Neville Cook.

"I think it is a fair statement, we are not in the farming business," Cr Cockburn said.

He said the council had to be open minded about dairy farming and water quality issues and had already gone to great lengths to come up with initiatives to help with the issue of water quality.

"It doesn't happen overnight," Cr Cockburn said.

Dr Wright's report shows that as the rate of intensive dairy farming has increased, so has the level of nitrates and phosphates in the water.

Environment Southland chairwoman Ali Timms said the council used a mixture of education and regulation and encouraged best practice.

The rural community had been responsive to the education and any more regulation would have be worked through with the council and the community, she said.

Cr Nicol Horrell said from London yesterday that regulation was "always a last resort".

"In a lot of cases we have a range of options to achieve our goals, including education."

However, councillors Robert Guyton and Jan Riddell both agreed more needed to be done to reduce the damage to Southland's waterways and eco-systems.

"Our brief is to govern and regulate," Cr Guyton said.

"We have clearly got to be strong, we have got an obligation to be strong."

He said some councillors were reluctant to regulate the industry because they did not want to "upset" stakeholders.

"I think the farming community and the farming industry have always had a significant influence over Environment Southland through industry-friendly councillors. I think that influence has grown significantly."

Some councillors were holding the economy in "higher regard" than the environment, he said.

"The balance is swinging towards economic development and the not the environment."

Ms Timms would not comment on his statements.

Cr Riddell said the report was another reminder the council needed to do more than just regulate.

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"This is a wake-up call."

The council needed to be more proactive in its attitude, she said.

Even dairy giant Fonterra was more rigorous in its standards around water quality and farming practices than Environment Southland.

The council needed more bottom-line regulation, she said.

"How much dairy can the region handle safely?"

Cr Lloyd McCallum said he was unwilling to have a discussion about the issue in the media and instead would air his views at the next council meeting.

Councillors Grant Hubber and Peter Jones did not return phone calls.

- The Southland Times

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