One conclusion from water report - dairy conversions need moderating

Forest & Bird says a report released this morning by the independent Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, shows that in many areas, limits will need to be set on the conversion of beef and sheep farms to dairy farms. 

Forest & Bird says some moderation is essential, if the dramatic decline in the quality of many of New Zealand’s lakes, rivers and estuaries is to be stopped.

The report “Water Quality in New Zealand: Land Use and Nutrient Pollution” projects current dairy conversion rates up to 2020. These figures were then combined with the established data on the increases in nitrogen and phosphorous pollution that go hand in hand with a transition from sheep and beef farming to dairying.  

The results show that even if all the available measures to limit nutrient runoff are in place, water quality will continue to plummet, as it has since 1996 - the beginning of the dairy boom.  

“What no one wants to talk about is that the current ‘white gold rush’ is leading New Zealand to a freshwater quality disaster,” says Kevin Hackwell, Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager. 

“At a gut level New Zealanders know that the unchecked dairying conversion rates just cannot go on without causing a dramatic reduction in water quality. Now, thanks to this report from the PCE, we know it in our heads as well. 

“The government needs to accept that spending $400 million on building irrigation schemes like the one planned for Ruataniwha is only going to make things worse,” Kevin Hackwell says.  

“It’s also plain from the report that in areas where waterways are close to or beyond acceptable pollution limits, a resource consent should be needed to start dairying. Indeed, these sorts of measures were recommended recently by the Land and Water Forum. 

“Restrictions on conversions have already been put in place around Taupo, and now the rate of dairying conversions needs to be actively managed around the rest of the country.   

“Understandably, farmers wanting to cash in on the dairy boom won’t like to hear this. But the PCE’s report says that, even if all dairy farmers employ industry best practice, nitrogen levels are going to increase in virtually every region. What that means is that swimming and fishing in many of our lakes, rivers, and estuaries could become a thing of the past – possibly within just seven years,” Kevin Hackwell says.   

“The PCE is being very polite in this report. She makes no recommendations, and doesn’t discuss the impacts of this increase in pollution loads. She also refers several times to the fact that her modelling is conservative.

“But there is only one conclusion that can be drawn. This report must mark a turning point in the rate at which dairy conversions are polluting our waterways. It’s simple - New Zealanders want to have healthy rivers and lakes they can swim and fish in, so we need to act now,” Kevin Hackwell says.