Labour MP Damien O'Connor says farmers should not be the only ones held accountable for the pollution of rivers.
Mr O'Connor, Labour's primary industries spokesman, said the public needed to be more aware that city and district councils' wastewater treatment plants were more detrimental to the health of rivers than farmers were.
"In the past few years farmers have cleaned up their act incredibly. Now it's time for the rest of the country to do the same."
Mr O'Connor was in Palmerston North yesterday talking to Horizons Regional Council and members of Federated Farmers about the regional council's controversial One Plan that has been strengthened by the Environment Court. Farmers are worried it could put them out of business.
Varying equations of loss of profitability have been put forward by farming and horticultural organisations that challenge Horizons' predictions of minimal losses if farmers meet the new tighter regulations. Research by the Primary Industries Ministry predicts losses could be as high as 22 to 43 per cent while Horizons claims 1 per cent is more realistic.
Mr O'Connor said losses in the realm of what was predicted by the ministry would put farms out of business. He said farmers had worked hard to get things right and now it was the turn of councils.
"Some councils have done nothing for many years and now face huge bills that they are going to have to put to their ratepayers. That's not going to make them popular but farmers have been paying for a long time already."
He said clean water was everyone's responsibility not just a small portion of New Zealand.
Federated Farmers water spokesperson Ian Mackenzie said he wanted to see a level playing field for councils and farmers.
"Urban authorities tend to be in denial about their impact on the rivers and the general public leave it up to their city and district councils to make the decisions and to sort it out. They are not giving their ratepayers good service."
Mr Mackenzie said One Plan was flawed simply because it was already out of date. "It is based on a nutrient budgeting programme that has been overtaken by a newer version so the numbers they come out with are not correct."
Horizons chairman Bruce Gordon agreed urban people should take more responsibility for water quality. "Equity is important and the urban sector needs to be aware of its roles and responsibilities just as the rural sector does."
He said One Plan encompassed that philosophy not just across water quality but across all areas of natural resource management.
He said councils had to meet standards in the same way farmers had and there were no special rules for them.
"While the One Plan does bring in numerical targets for some farmers in our region in terms of nitrogen, territorial authorities have had numerical standards in place for upwards of 15 years and all parties have a part to play in managing our natural resources."
Mr O'Connor said before One Plan went to the Environment Court there was a lot of common ground between farmers and the regional council. "But all the good work that had been done during the hearings and the bridges that were crossed seems to have all been undone."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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