Other side of water issue

CHRIS LEWIS
Last updated 06:52 03/06/2014
Opinion poll

Are journalists guilty of selective reporting when it comes to New Zealand's water quality issues?

Yes

No

Vote Result

A Carp fish stirs up mud in the shallow waters of Lake Waikare.
Fairfax NZ
STIRRING IT UP: A Carp fish stirs up mud in the shallow waters of Lake Waikare.

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OPINION: Watching Campbell Live last week, I was disappointed to see more selective reporting on a water quality issue.

The reporter, Tristram Clayton, did a series of stories on Lake Waikare, which glossed over some important details - allowing viewers to jump to the easy assumption that, once again, another water source is under threat from the primary industries alone.

Before anyone jumps up and down saying I am an ignorant farmer not taking responsibility for our industry's contribution, this is not what I am saying at all.

Yes, the lake's quality is in bad shape and that's partly to do with the runoff from farms in the catchment. This is not new and dates back to the 1940s. Its health wasn't helped by flood control works in the 1960s, which lowered the average level of the lake by about one metre. There's also been a loss of wetlands and while these are not new issues, what is new, is farming's acceptance of the need to do something about our contribution.

What wasn't said were the other contributing factors. It is common knowledge, had he bothered to ask, that there are hundreds of thousands of adult carp estimated to be in the lake with a combined biomass of 851 tonnes.

I'd also like to quote the Waikato Conservation Board from last year:

"Koi carp is believed to be a major contribution for the decline of water quality in the Waikato rivers and lakes. When the fish feed, they stir up the bottom of lakes and rivers, muddying the water and destroying native plant and fish habitat."

Koi carp are like goldfish on steroids, an aquatic combination of possums and rabbits. A single cow generally weighs about half a tonne, the 851 tonne of carp in that single shallow lake is mind boggling. Also affecting the lake is the output of the Te Kauwhata wastewater treatment plant.

Farming is not ducking responsibility, but it feels off to see journalists dropping hints over where they think the blame lies. The facts are the lake is very shallow, there are a lot of koi carp stirring the sediment which holds nutrients, and we are discharging wastewater into it. Yes, farms are a factor and we acknowledge that, but so are a lot of other things, like past farming practices, flood engineering, and the lake's introduced inhabitants.

To do an investigative story about what is happening in the lake, you need to interview all parties involved, such as the agricultural community - which the finger was indirectly pointed at. It would have been much easier, as the above could have all been pointed out to the reporter.

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As a human activity, farming has an impact on the environment. We don't deny that, but then again, so does the act of just being alive. If I had been asked during these stories, I would have pointed out that whilst farming has got to do its bit to clean up Lake Waikare, the lake isn't dead, it is hypertrophic, and the carp prove that.

This is not ideal and we all need to roll our sleeves up to fix the problem. What I would like is for reporters that are trying to promote water quality issues to report on them responsibly.

* Chris Lewis is the president of Waikato Federated Farmers.

- Waikato Times

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