Freshwater Presentation to ECAN Commissioners

On March 18th 2016, as part of a Biodiversity and Fresh Water meeting, North Canterbury committee members Valerie Campbell and Penny Wright made the following presentation to the ECAN Commissioners.

Canterbury’s Freshwater (FW) issues.

FW Status both Quality and Quantity under pins all river and lake biodiversity.

"The Environment Aotearoa 2015" is already out of date (based on data to 2013) and has significant statistical errors with respect to the FW Domain e.g combining baseline and impact site river data which results in misleading representation of NIWA data and only considers 10 years rather than 20 in the trend analysis (Mike Joy.)

However, even despite these short comings - the report already showed significant upwards trends in FW contaminants in Canterbury pre 2013.

These levels reflect agricultural practice in the last 1-2 decades (due to variable leaching rates).

River flows are decreasing - rivers are becoming ephemeral e.g. Waitohi - and ephemeral ones now dry all year round e.g. Eyre. Also, the number of rivers affected by cyanobacteria are increasing, affecting biodiversity and recreational use e.g. Selwyn, Ashley River and North Canterbury rivers in particular, due to the interaction of Nitrogen and Phosphorus  and decreased flushing.

Taking Nitrogen(N) as an example, monitoring in 2014-2015 has shown N levels to be exceeding the threshold for biodiversity in some places and hence are already affecting the bottom of the food chain (Macroinvertebrate Community Index results).The consequences of these increases are going to be borne in the decades and by generations to come due to the lag effect and could be irreversible.

Most lowland areas in Canterbury are already graded Orange or Red (ECAN Map.)

For example,

  • In the Waimakariri District: the Kaiapoi river is “Dead” from a flora and fauna point of view. In the Silverstream headwaters the N level now exceeds 6.8mg/l – this has occurred in the last 2 years. It is 80% Land Surface Recharged. Upgradient, 8000ha is being converted to intensive dairying in an area already classified as Red and known to have soils with the highest leaching rates in Canterbury (M. Close 2010). How these same soils that have been under forest since 1920 are going to handle this intensification is largely speculation (S Wilson, 2014). It is estimated that within 5 years there could be 25,000 cows on this area (stated at the Ngai Tahu Field Day 8 March + Claxby conversion) the equivalent of approximately 300,000 people urinating without a sewage system. There are already over 100 pivot irrigators in this area (Google Earth aerial photo) and it’s only half developed!
  • In the Selwyn District: Lake Ellesmere is back to 2010 levels despite up to $10M (6M from Govt taxes, 2M from ECAN rates & 2M N.Tahu) already being spent. WHY? Because dairying continues unabated upgradient and the rules such as cattle in the lake/waterways aren’t being enforced.
  • Further south in Hinds, N levels of 15-22 mg/l have been recorded (A. Meredith pers com) – where dairying intensification started earlier.

Setting targets of stricter controls coming in for nutrient loading by 2022 and minimum river flows by 2015 is FAR TOO SLOW when the damage is already being done. To say “it will get worse before it gets better” (D Caygill) shows the lack of commitment by ECAN. How much of our biodiversity will be gone for good by then?

750 complaints have been made to ECAN, yet only one Infringement notice and fine, despite numerous complaints over numerous years for some farmers – so where is the incentive for farmers across Canterbury to comply? Only 64% compliance and only 16% with a Farm Environmental Plan (FEP) so far. WHY IS ECAN NOT ACTING?

When we cannot control these down gradient effects, why is the major CAUSE not being controlled?

Dairying is the biggest contributor to increasing N levels. In the last 5 years dairy cow numbers in Canterbury have gone from 700,000 to 1.2 M and continue to increase, the average herd size is twice the national average and we have the highest stocking rates in NZ (LIC data)

Consents for dairying intensification and ground water extraction are continuing unabated. HOW CAN THAT BE?

The INDEPENDENT Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright has already pointed out in her report of July 2015 that the way cow’s urinate is a major contributing factor. The volume exceeds the vegetation and topsoil’s ability to absorb the urea and the mitigation measures proposed in 2010 are now inadequate. Fencing and riparian planting may slow down the sediment and P getting into waterways but does little for the N.

At the same time, the greatest source of Braided Rivers in the world (and associated Biodiversity) is BEING PUT AT RISK for the ECONOMIC GAIN OF A FEW. HOW CAN THIS BE?

Fonterra has not delivered on its mandate. By an Act of parliament in 2001, it was given the monopoly of dairy marketing for NZ  to diversify and develop value added products. 15 years later they are still in the commodity market with milk powder and largely to one market - China. So when its economy falters, so does NZ’s.

Dairying is most unlikely to recover to previous levels of return. NZ is competing against Australia, Canada and Europe that are all producing increasing quantities of dairy products in a much lower input system re water, electricity and no Palm Kernel Expeller (PKE). Whereas NZ dairying is no longer “clean and green” due to excessive use of external inputs - water (and hence electricity), fertilizer and PKE. (NZ is the world’s biggest importer of PKE and helping to destroy another countries ecosystem at the same time).The profitability of the large scale, intensive farms is declining. The Lincoln Research Dairy Farm has already shown that by dropping stocking rates you can decrease inputs and hence costs, increase per cow production and hence overall profit. At the same time lowering the environmental impact.

ECAN’s lack of commitment to biodiversity and to fresh drinking water and recreational use of FW, both FIRST ORDER PRIORITIES under the ECAN (Temporary Commissioners and  Improved Water Management) ACT 2010", weighs for future generations. Not closing the door on further waterway degradation is unacceptable and goes against the National Policy Statement - FW which states “Water quality cannot be allowed to degrade across a region”.

ECAN is failing to protect Canterbury’s Environment, particularly with respect to FW issues and creating a possibly unsurmountable legacy for future generations.

Please note this was presented to the Commissioners mid March. New data and other issues have come to light since then, but the North Canterbury Committee felt it was important that members had this background information on our fresh water issues.