Farmers confront water issue

PIERS FULLER
Last updated 11:57 27/11/2013

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We all want clean waterways but at what economic cost? That is the question that the Wairarapa branch of the Federated Farmers is asking in response to the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's report on water quality that predicts further water degradation in the future due to land use change.

President of the Wairarapa Federated Farmers Jamie Falloon said now is the time for Wairarapa people to make their wishes known when it comes to balancing the need for good environmental outcomes with the necessity to sustain ourselves economically.

Many of the easy decisions to limit water degradation have already been made and now we have to make the hard ones, he said.

Farmers need to "do everything they can practically do, which is economically sensible".

The Commissioner's report included modelling that shows what Wairarapa agricultural land use might look like in 2020. It predicts dairying to increase by almost 25,000 hectares and forestry to expand by more than 30,000ha.

The report says that growth in dairy farming would lead to poorer water quality in the catchment.

Mr Falloon said Wairarapa is already close to its limit for dairy production.

Farmers are not shirking away from the fact they are a contributing factor to the water quality issue and they have already been working hard to mitigate some of the effects of their practices, such as riparian planting, hillside erosion control planting, and fencing off some waterways, Mr Falloon said.

"We've actually got to man up and sort out everything we can control."

The Greater Wellington Regional Council is the local body charged with monitoring water quality and setting acceptable limits. The council is in the process of assembling its Whaitua Catchment Committee, which is an advisory group consulting with various sectors in the community.

Mr Falloon said without the contribution of all affected parties including farmers, the consultation won't be a success.

"The good bit is the community gets to decide. The hard bit is that all the decisions that have to be made all involve costs.

"We have to work out what it's going to cost and what gains in water quality are going to be made. Then work out what we can afford to pay for and over what period of time."

It is not just dairy farming that is to blame for increased nutrient loading on the waterways - hillcountry erosion increases phosphorous levels in our streams and rivers. Phosphorous can be a limiting factor in algae blooms and weed growth, therefore control of phosphorous levels could be an effective way to combat this problem. The predicted increase in forestry in Wairarapa would be beneficial in reducing soil erosion.

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Another key factor is sewerage and stormwater discharge from urban networks. All Wairarapa towns discharge treated effluent to the waterways and though Masterton has been through their tortuous consenting process, all of the towns to the south are yet to work through theirs.

- Wairarapa News

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