Lack of action over waterways

04:15, Feb 13 2014

Time is running out to prevent New Zealand's waterways from being polluted, the environment commissioner warns.

Appearing before a select committee to discuss a report on deteriorating water quality, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright voiced her concerns about a lack of action on the issue.

Wright this month made a submission on proposed amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2011.

Under the framework, councils have until 2030 to set objectives and limits for waterways in their plans.

"It does mean there's a lot of time for things to get worse," she told the select committee.

"I'm worried this will take so much time and money that would be better focused on this urgent problem of nitrogen now."


Labour water spokeswoman Meka Whaitiri asked Wright why she had not included any recommendations in her report.

Wright said it had been intended as a scientific report only. A wider question needed to be addressed on how to balance the economy and the environment.

In some catchments the number of cows per hectare might be limited, and in others attempts could be made to stop conversions, she said.

National MP Paul Goldsmith asked where the line should be drawn between the costs of cleaning up and the benefit to the dairy industry.

Wright said it was not her role to determine that.

"If the country decides that this is all fine and [poor quality] water is fine then that is a decision that is up to them," she said.

But she warned that leaving the cleanup to future generations would be "very, very difficult and expensive".

The water quality report, released in November, highlighted the effects of nutrient pollutants nitrogen and phosphorus when they built up in waterways.

Waterways were being choked with weeds, slime and algae, it said.

The cause of the pollution was a shift from sheep and beef farming to dairying.

The report forecast that by 2020, dairy farmland will have increased by almost 400,000 hectares.