Enviro report paints stark picture

01:43, Jan 31 2009

Nearly 2500 bird, plant and other species are under threat and a fifth of monitored groundwater is too contaminated to drink, according to the most substantial environmental report in our history.

The continuing threat to the kiwi from stoats, ferrets, cats and other predators is indicative of the fragility of our clean, green image, laid bare in the Environment New Zealand 2007 report out yesterday.

Though there are 70,000 kiwi across all five species, that is a fraction of numbers in the 1970s, and they remain in decline.

The news is also bad for the six other indicator species studied in the 450-page report, with the area in which they can be found decreasing significantly in the past 30 years.

Their plight is a graphic illustration of the impact of humans on the environment, and the report spells out other threats in sometimes alarming detail.

As The Dominion Post reported yesterday, a decline in water quality caused by more intensive farming, particularly dairying, and urban runoff has emerged as the major problem since the first report in 1997.


Five per cent of the 1000 groundwater sources monitored for nitrate had levels unsafe for babies to drink. Of the 520 sources monitored for bacteria, 22 per cent were unsafe for "general consumption". It was not known what proportion of these waters fed into drinking supplies.

Only 60 per cent of monitored freshwater swimming spots were suitable for swimming most of the time, while 10 per cent were "often unsuitable".

Irrigation has also emerged as a major issue, with the volume of water allocated for this purpose up 50 per cent between 1999 and 2006.

Environment Minister Trevor Mallard stressed that New Zealand still had enviable supplies of clean water by international standards, but accepted a serious problem was emerging. He warned that tighter controls on dairying, including winding it back or even banning it in some areas, was an option.

"There's going to have to be some tighter regulation. Already, there's work happening around the Taupo basin and in the Waikato that is going to lead to standards which I think will result in the intensification ceasing and, in some cases, people might have to move backwards."

Voluntary measures, however, such as the Clean Water Accord, which sets targets for farmers, were the preferred solution.

The report also finds that New Zealanders are taking to their cars in much greater numbers and more than half the population live in areas where they can be exposed to poor-quality air.

Greenhouse gas emissions are a key issue, with levels 25 per cent above those in 1990 - again, largely due to increased dairy farming.

But New Zealand is improving in some areas, such as greater public transport use, better waste management and energy efficiency. Energy use has decreased relative to economic growth - a crucial measure as New Zealand strives to meet its Kyoto commitments.


The Dominion Post