Effluent policy surprises scientist

HELEN HARVEY
Last updated 05:00 11/12/2012

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A leading freshwater scientist has expressed surprise that Taranaki farmers are still discharging treated effluent into waterways.

The New Zealand Freshwater Sciences Society president Waikato University Professor David Hamilton said many other regional councils prosecute anyone who discharges into waterways.

"I'd have thought that the enormous efforts that have gone into protecting waterways through riparian planting would have been complemented by land-based effluent applications to try and reduce the impact from those oxidation ponds."

Half of the region's farmers, about 900, discharge treated effluent into streams and waterways.

As part of the review of its freshwater plan the Taranaki Regional Council is looking at requiring farmers to discharge on to land unless given permission by the council in certain weather conditions.

Following on from its annual conference last week the New Zealand Freshwater Science Society yesterday issued a statement warning about the widespread decline of aquatic biodiversity and water quality in New Zealand.

"What society is seeing is 10 years of very rapid increases in agricultural productivity but the problem is it has been at environmental expense shall we say and it can't continue this way," Prof Hamilton told the Taranaki Daily News.

"Failure to act with decisiveness and urgency risks further environmental degradation and erosion of our international environmental reputation and branding."

Otherwise, New Zealanders will be left with a sad environmental legacy and a serious financial burden, which is already happening in some areas.

Regional councils need to standardise their monitoring and there is an urgent need for New Zealand to have national state of the environment reporting, Prof Hamilton said.

"We are the only OECD nation that can't report on the state of the environment and we are coming unstuck . . . At the moment overseas studies are scrutinising us and taking data from here, there and everywhere and that's not because the scientists don't have the systems in place.

"It's because there isn't the political will to set in place standard reporting and procedures."

Prof Hamilton said several presentations at the conference showed the benefits of best practice measures to restore degraded systems or mitigate the effects.

"New Zealand science programmes have demonstrated over the last three decades techniques by which many of these problems can be mitigated and minimised.

"Some landowners and businesses have already adopted them with success and have demonstrated that production and pollution do not need to go hand in hand, or cause loss of profits."

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- © Fairfax NZ News

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