High levels of E coli found in creek near treasured springs' reserve

Dairy farm runoff entering a subsidiary of Fish Creek. High E coli levels have been found in the creek, which flows into ...
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Dairy farm runoff entering a subsidiary of Fish Creek. High E coli levels have been found in the creek, which flows into a reserve holding New Zealand's largest freshwater springs in Golden Bay.

High E coli​ levels have been found in a creek near the reserve that holds the country's largest freshwater springs.

The monitoring of Fish Creek,ear Te Waikoropupu Springs Reserve in Golden Bay, revealed the water is subject to severe levels of pollution from dairy farm runoff during rain events.

Te Waikoropupu Springs is the southern hemisphere's largest coldwater springs and has some of the clearest waters ever measured on earth.

Te Waikoropupu Springs is the largest cold water springs in the southern hemisphere and contains some of the clearest ...
NINA HINDMARSH/FAIRFAX NZ

Te Waikoropupu Springs is the largest cold water springs in the southern hemisphere and contains some of the clearest waters measured on earth.

Levels as high as 20,000 E coli per 100 millilitres were discovered at the boundary where the creek runs into the reserve after testing by Friends of Golden Bay at four sites from November 2016 to April 2017.

The new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management states that safe swimmable levels should not exceed 540 E coli per 100ml and for drinking it is less than 1 E coli per 100ml. 

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The lack of water allocation rules across Takaka catchments has been one of the main issues facing a group of Golden Bay ...
NINA HINDMARSH/FAIRFAX NZ

The lack of water allocation rules across Takaka catchments has been one of the main issues facing a group of Golden Bay residents working with the Tasman District Council to protect and manage its waterways.

Fish Creek is a rare and fragile freshwater stream habitat containing threatened native fish and important species. It also supplies around a quarter of the overall flow that enters the Springs River. 

Friends of Golden Bay (FOGB) chairman Andrew Yiull said it became aware the area repeatedly had an unpleasant appearance and odour after rainfall.

It was also aware the Department of Conservation removed the drinking water in 2014 for visitors at the Springs after unsatisfactory E coli test results, and tourists' reports of its ill effects after drinking from the supply. 

"We subsequently received help from the Tasman District Council (TDC), who paid for tests to identify the source. It was confirmed by further analysis to be ruminants from cattle. We took the samples during rainfall; the rest of the time, there's probably not a lot [of pollution]."

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Yiull is the co-applicant with iwi Ngati Tama ki Te Waipounamu for an unprecedented Water Conservation Order to protect the Takaka Marble Aquifer that feeds the Springs.

Ngati Tama has also taken TDC to the High Court and is awaiting the judge's ruling over its decision to allow Kahurangi Virgin Waters to bottle and sell the water – and drill a new bore at Fish Springs.

The lack of water allocation rules across Takaka catchments has been one of the main issues facing a group of Golden Bay residents working with the council to protect and manage its waterways. 

Under the proposal, the council wants to allocate a further 356 litres per second of water from the Takaka catchment, on top of the current 500 litres per second limit.

Weekly water analysis samples done and paid for by FOGB at the main spring has found nitrate levels to be running at "critical" levels. 

Campaigners are concerned the unique aquifer organisms responsible for the crystal clear water at the spring may die if dairying pollution exceeded the safe limit, or river levels fell too low.

One of Golden Bay's most precious treasures was subject to what can only be described as gross faecal pollution, Yiull said.

"The main spring hasn't been affected – as far as we know, but a lot of people don't appreciate that a quarter of the water that comes out of Te Waikoropupu Springs Reserve is coming from Fish Springs which flows into Fish Creek," he said.

Yiull said the link between the intensity of dairy farming, its profitability, and the impact on our waterways had been highlighted yet again. 

It was "really important" the community understood there was a trade-off involved. 

"There are remedial measures that can be taken, but it may take up area for grazing and it may cost farmers. On the other hand, further intensification will mean more pollution of our waterways and the outcome of that will be some irreparable consequences."

He said people needed to stop denying here was a problem.

"The next phase is to get it into the general consciousness that there are some trade-offs we have start thinking about. It's time to start having civil, intelligent and thoughtful discussions about what compromises we are willing to make about the world we want to live in."

TDC spokesman Chris Choat said it was working with farmers in the area with riparian planting, fencing and the creation of wetlands to take account of runoff caused by heavy rainfall. 

"We are focused on creating a means of mitigating the issue 'upstream' rather than meeting the direct consequence in the waterway itself. It has proven successful throughout the district to manage the site than the impact," he said.

Federated Farmers Golden Bay president Wayne Langford said it was common to see an increase of E coli levels during rain events.

"That is why farmers have been working on measures such as riparian planting to alleviate some of these issues. As we become aware of different areas and hotspots, farmers are working with council to rectify them."

 - Stuff

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