10 Sep 2012

Scientist warns against new water quality rules

6:00 pm on 10 September 2012

New water quality rules for Otago are a dangerous mistake, a scientist warns.

The Otago Regional Council has begun five weeks of public hearings on Plan Change 6A which would give landowners tighter limits but more powers to manage agricultural run-off.

Last week, the Manawatu-Whanganui Regional Council got court approval for its new water rules called the One Plan to crack down on agricultural run-off polluting the region's rivers and lakes.

Marc Schallenberg, a water scientist at the University of Otago, told the hearing on Monday that the South Island region should be doing the same.

Dr Schallenberg said Otago's approach of tracking nutrients once they are already in rivers and lakes is dangerous and likely to be a step in the wrong direction.

But farmers say the opposite is true and fear Plan Change 6A will lump them with all the responsibility and see them facing criminal charges for contamination they can't control.

Kate Wilson, a Middlemarch sheep farmer, lawyer and Dunedin City Councillor, told the hearing on Monday she will have to ban anglers and hunters from her farm in case they pollute it because she does not trust the way the council might enforce the new rules.

Taieri Plains dairy farmer Philip Wilson said he had spent $500,000 on environmental improvements and had borrowed $1 million to do more, but could not afford the bridges to keep stock out of streams as the changes demand.

Mr Wilson says he is well aware of the public pressure to improve water quality, but needs more time to adapt.

The hearings will be held at locations throughout Otago.