Problem-solver says Waikato can have both a thriving economy and clean water, reports Aaron Leaman .
Many words could be used to describe Angus Robson - inventor, problem-solver, agitator.
The 50-year-old Matamata man first hit the headlines in September this year when he and a band of "like-minded thinkers" erected a billboard at a busy Hamilton intersection inviting passers-by to think about water quality.
It was Robson's first public foray into an issue which shapes as one of the most important, and most contentious, for the Waikato region.
The billboard said Waikato's river and stream quality was the worst in New Zealand and that regional councillors were responsible for water quality.
It was provocative statement - and a timely one.
The Waikato Regional Council is currently embarking on its Healthy Rivers: Plan for Change project, a $2.4 million initiative to amend the Waikato Regional Plan.
The purpose is to manage adverse effects from discharges to land and water in the Waikato and Waipa catchments.
Robson, a mechanical engineer by trade, has taken an active interest in the project as well as investing 5000 hours of his own time learning about water quality. His conclusion is that the region can have a thriving economy as well as clean water.
"When you get out there and start talking to people in the community, invariably people want to protect water quality but there's also this feeling that if they push too hard, somehow they will wreck the economy," Robson says.
"But the solutions to our deteriorating water quality will actually make the region and the country more productive."
Robson, a self-described problem-solver and successful inventor, says his interest in water quality was sparked by changes in his own environment.
"I could pretty much see all the water around me was either wrecked or getting wrecked and I felt if I could help in some way and sort it out, that would be something to be proud of."
Robson says he committed "for the long haul" to achieving cleaner waterways but insists urgent action is needed to reverse declining water-quality trends.
Last month, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright released a report warning of the consequences of continued dairy expansion on water quality. She projected current dairy conversion rates up to 2020 and concluded "the large-scale conversion of more land to dairy farming will generally result in more degraded fresh water".
In a similarly cautious vein, the Waikato Regional Council released a 20-year snapshot of water quality in Waikato waterways which showed worsening trends in nitrogen content and water clarity across the region.
Robson says dairy pollution could be substantially reduced by introducing three measures: Prohibiting further dairy intensification on light soils (soil which doesn't hold much water) and steep land;
Getting cows off pasture where their effluent can be managed by centrally sanitising and whole-farm effluent spreading;
Excluding stock from waterways and wetlands.
"I firmly believe we can have a strong economy and clean water but at the moment the polluters aren't being made to clean up their mess. What the dairy industry say they are doing and what they actually do are two different things," Robson says.
"Agricultural pollution causes over 90 per cent of our lowland freshwater pollution - almost none of it is coming from urban sources, and trying to pass blame is an agricultural industry lie."
Robson says further billboards are being planned for Hamilton and across the country, urging the community to get involved in the water-quality debate.
People can't rely on others to act in their best interests, he says.
"I think people genuinely believe there are organisations out there protecting the environment on their behalf, but the fact is they aren't. Over the past 25 years I've travelled to places in Africa, Europe, North America, the Middle East and South Asia and in all those places they're working to improve their environments and ours is getting worse." email@example.com
- © Fairfax NZ News
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