27 May 2015

Water quality dominates primary industries debate

5:20 pm on 27 May 2015

Water quality was the most contentious issue in a debate between scientists, farmers and agricultural leaders on whether New Zealand's primary industries are doing enough to protect the environment.

Hand in water (file photo)

Photo: 123rf

The debate was held at the Primary Industry Summit in Wellington, yesterday.

Federated Farmers water and environment spokesperson Ian MacKenzie said the Ministry for the Environment's 'State of Water' report suggested water quality was stable and improving, as was erosion on hill country.

"And we know it's improving for sediment, it's improving for faecal contamination, it's steady for nitrates, or marginally worse and we know that the state of our soil or land is better than ever. We've been retiring some of our most sensitive high country, so soil erosion from a lot of that country is better than it's ever been. Soil erosion on steep North Island hill country is getting better," said Mr MacKenzie.

He said thanks to irrigation on the Canterbury Plains, the dust storms that they used to experience only 20 years ago have stopped.

"Another important aspect of the environment is actually the people and what we see is farmers' attitude to stewardship is better now than it's probably ever been."

However, fresh water ecologist Dr Mike Joy, completely opposed Ian MacKenzie's view that water quality was improving.

"Im going to talk about the reality. I find it really sad that Ian is really completely out of touch with water quality in New Zealand and he's the environment spokesman for Federated Farmers and it talks to part of the problem we have in this country, I think."

Dr Joy used maps showing water quality in different parts of the country, to back up his argument.

"So phosphate levels - that map there you can see moderately or several polluted [areas] and I don't have to tell you where those places are. They are all the dairy farming, intensively farmed parts of the country."

He said 44 percent of New Zealand's lakes were eutrophic or worse, which meant they had "flipped into another state" and all of those lakes were in lowland pasture catchments.

He also said 74 percent of the country's native fish species were now on the threatened species list, up from 20 percent.

"I can't find a country in the world that has such a high proportion of threatened fresh water fish."

Chair of Organics Aotearoa New Zealand Brendan Hoare told the summit the country was failing in its obligations to the environment.

Brendan Hoare called on industry leaders to create a common goal to address climate change, green house gas emissions and to improve the quality of water and soil.

"The status quo is unacceptable. Our strategy is wrong and so are our tactics. We have to change.

"We find ourselves in a radical position right now. Do I have faith that those in this room and those we elect, but primarily people in this room can do that? Right now, no," Mr Hoare said.

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