From the Farm: A dream of clean streams

By Jonathan Underhill

Farewell to the decade-long Clean Streams Accord which ended on Dec. 31.

New Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy diplomatically said the accord “has seen good results in some areas.” The Environmental Defence Society “noted with concern the slow progress being made in cleaning up our waterways.”

His ministry’s latest and probably last snapshot of progress on five targets under the Fonterra accord was published this week. Depending on where you stand the programme was a pass or a fail.

First the successes: Dairy farmers beat the target of 90 percent of regular crossing points to have bridges or culverts; 99 percent of farms have a nutrient budget.

In the almost achieved category: Dairy cattle are excluded from 87 percent of accord-type, waterways, i.e. permanently flowing, wider than a metre and deeper than the ankle of your gumboot.

Not achieved: 73 percent of dairy farm effluent is appropriately treated and discharged and in compliance with resource consents (the target was 100 percent).

Compliance with regional plan requirements and resource consents for dairy effluent was particularly problematic. MPI called it “a significant challenge” and the results so performance varied widely across the country.

For example, the Horizons, Taranaki, Wellington, Tasman and Otago regional councils recorded dairy effluent full compliance rates of more than 90 percent. But Northland achieved just 38 percent full compliance and Southland was on 45 percent. The weighted average nationwide was 73 percent and the target was 100 percent.

Significant non-compliance – where a discharge has either entered or is likely to enter water and there’s no consent or an abatement notice hadn’t been complied with was a whopping 27 percent in Northland and 16 percent in the Bay of Plenty.

The dairy industry has moved to take ownership of the issue since the demise of the accord, announcing this week the Sustainable Dairying: Water Accord.

The new plan, under the auspices of the Dairy Environment Leadership Group, has all of the nation’s dairy companies signed up, not just Fonterra. It sets new target dates for riparian management, nutrient management, effluent and water use management, and dairy conversions.

Minister Guy calls it “a real step forward and shows the dairy industry is serious about improving its practices.” EDS chairman Gary Taylor wants time to evaluate the new plan but says the overall pathway “is one of continuous improvement and the whole dairy sector is now included.”

Green Party MP Eugenie Sage dubs the new plan the “Dirty Streams Accord” and says a voluntary programme “gives too much wiggle room and has no sanction for breaches.”

There’s great PR value for the dairy industry to be driving its own clean up initiatives and there’s no doubt progress has been made under the Clean Streams Accord and will be again under accord Mk 2.

But of much greater import to New Zealand is the work and government response to the Land and Water Forum, which made its final report back in November and draws from every stakeholder group with an interest in the nation’s fresh water.

In that regard it has tried to forge consensus and elicit concessions from its members. As forum chairman Alastair Bisley said in the covering release of the final report,

“In 21st century New Zealand, under the pressure of people, agriculture and industry, the quality of our rivers, lakes and streams will vary – they will not all be pristine,” he said.

Its report proposes an over-arching framework of “integrated decision-making in catchments, continuous improvement of management practices and clearer rights to take and use water within set limits.

The Environmental Defence Society’s Taylor says the framework will set “measurable limits on dairying”.

That ball’s in the government’s court to respond and will have the biggest impact on the health and environmental quality of New Zealand’s waterways



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