New report reinforces need for urgent action on rivers

Forest & Bird is calling for a comprehensive government package to restore our declining rivers and lakes, in the face of overwhelming evidence that they are in serious trouble.

The Our fresh water 2017 report released today by the Ministry for the Environment and Statistics NZ, is the latest in a series of reports which illustrates the degradation of our freshwater as the result of intensifying land use.

However, Forest & Bird is disappointed that two years on from the release of Environment Aotearoa 2015, there is not two years of new data. In many cases the data is from before 2013.
“Unfortunately the report doesn’t show us up to date trends, which we’d hoped for and which we think the country needs “says Forest & Bird’s Freshwater Advocate Annabeth Cohen.

The report shows that to 2013, nitrate – nitrogen trends were worsening at 61 percent and improving at 22 percent of sites.

The report also makes the point that nitrate-nitrogen concentration in urban areas was 18 times higher than native forested catchments, compared to 10 times higher in rural areas.

“Yet only 1 percent of New Zealand is urban, and 40 percent is pastoral. Therefore the magnitude of the problem is far greater than this statistic would suggest,” says Ms Cohen. In the last 10 years, the dairy cow population has grown at nearly three times the rate of the human population.

“Our freshwater is in crisis, and the primary cause is intensifying land use associated with dairy farming.”
“We know that there has been more than a 500 percent increase in dairy cows in Southland alone, while their wetlands have decreased by 10 percent.“

“The report doesn’t draw the obvious conclusions that the recent OECD report did, which makes much clearer links between irrigation, dairy intensification, and worsening water quality.”

Forest & Bird welcomes the useful new data on the state of our freshwater invertebrates, and freshwater plants. The report shows that 34 percent of invertebrates and 31 percent of plants are threatened or at risk of extinction, alongside 72 percent of our freshwater fish.

“Our freshwater species depend on healthy rivers, lakes, and wetlands to thrive. Large numbers of our freshwater plants and animals are at risk of extinction - their habitat is being developed or degraded at an alarming rate,” says Ms Cohen.

Forest & Bird was deeply disappointed that the Government’s revised National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management, part of the Clean Water Package, has not adequately addressed ecological health. It sets bottom lines for nutrients that are too low, and does not require regional councils to adopt a minimum Macroinvertebrate Index (MCI) for waterways.

“We remind the Government that there is a full package of measures to improve freshwater health, reached by consensus in the Land and Water Forum, and our submission on the Clean Water Package will call for these measures and more,” says Ms Cohen.

"How many more reports are required before the Government acts?"