NZ rivers will be 'like Yangtze'

HELEN MURDOCH
Last updated 13:45 11/07/2014

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Touted as a great leap forward by the Government, the latest national water quality standards are a scientific scam that will allow nitrate pollution to reach levels that will kill aquatic life and proliferate algal blooms, says Massey University ecologist and zoologist Dr Mike Joy.

Joy spoke of the current state and future poisoning of New Zealand's waterways, and the associated cost to taxpayers and profits to the dairy industry, in a talk in Nelson last night.

In a separate interview, Joy said the Government's new National Policy Statement of Freshwater Management, which comes into force on August 1, would see nitrate levels allowed to rise to 6.9 milligrams per litre - 10 times above current levels.

He also sounded a warning to the Tasman District Council saying plans to build the Waimea Community Dam would result in increased land intensification.

The NPS's new nitrate level was "like increasing the suburban speed limit from 50 kilometres and hour to 500kmh. It would allow New Zealand's rivers to become more polluted than the Yangtze in China, the Seine in France or the Thames in England".

Joy said the first point was for New Zealanders to realise the lack of regulation helped increase pollution.

"If there are two farmers side by side and one does the least mitigation, he will make more money."

Mitigation, such as fencing and planting streams reduced the rate of phosphate run-off but heavy nitrogen loading, produced by urine in quantity from intensive farming, could not be taken up by plants and ran into waterways creating algal growth and affecting aquatic life.

Joy said the current national nitrogen limit, which was already exceeded in a number of waterways, was low enough not to allow algal growth.

"But the industry and the Government want to double dairy production. To get around the science the bottom line for nutrients is only set at the toxicity limit for nitrogen - it's a single-unit scam."

He said the policy received a direct hit from the Ruataniwha Dam Board of Inquiry, which confirmed nitrogen leaching levels from agriculture at 0.8mg a litre, which would ensure the ability of rivers to sustain life.

By making toxicity the new national nitrogen bottom line in waterways the Ministry for the Environment was closing the door after the horse had bolted, Joy said.

"Before toxic level are reached, algal growth will have smothered a stream. The board of inquiry set a precedent. New Zealand cannot keep expanding its intensive farming."

Not only was expansion costing the country's waterways but it also cost taxpayers with the profits going to industry and individual farmers.

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"Only a few are profitting from this and they are destroying our ability to maintain the Clean Green image.

"It costs $250,000 to clean one tonne of nitrates from Lake Rotorua, but only $6600 in lost profit for a farmer to not put that on his land.

"And the surprising thing is that our productivity has dropped in the past 10 years. Production has gone up - however the cost of imported inputs, such as palm kernel, have risen faster."

However Guy Beatson, deputy secretary of policy at the Ministry for the Environment, said the NPS would not allow the degradation of rivers. "The bottom lines are not a minimum standard - instead the existing condition is the starting point for managing water quality, which in most cases is above the national bottom lines."

And the NPS did not suggest or endorse a single nutrient management approach. "Regional councils will need to set an objective for periphyton ([slime] in their regional plans, and adopt appropriate management options to achieve that objective," Beatson said. "Where necessary, this will require them to set limits on nitrogen and phosphorus and manage other factors that promote weed growth such as shade, temperature and flow levels."

Councils have to enforce the new NPS standards by 2025.

- The Nelson Mail

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