Waikato clean up figures treated with big dollop of scepticism

Forest & Bird is treating with a big dollop of scepticism “clean up” figures for the Waikato River released today by Waikato Regional Council and is asking for greater transparency into the economic model behind the report and its findings.

The results shown in the summary of the report released today indicate changes to the land management practices and land use needed to meet the legally binding Crown-iwi Vision and Strategy for the two rivers, which aims to have them safe to swim in and take food from along their entire length.

Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell says environment sector organisations requested a copy of the economic model at the heart of the report several months ago so that it could be independently reviewed, but the Waikato Regional Council has so far refused to make it available.

“Until the model is independently reviewed, the results that have been presented today should be treated with caution.
For example some of the modelling’s summary results strain credulity:

  • a 7% shift of land use away from dairy appears to cause a 22% decrease in dairy production.
  • a 2% shift of land use away from horticulture appears to cause a 43% decrease in horticulture production.
  • The modelling does not make any allowances for innovation in either mitigation or new business opportunities
  • The results do not account for the fact that these changes will take place over time and that labour will gradually be taken up in other parts of the economy that are labour-short.
  • The model does not recognise the cost of on-going degradation and the damage that this will ultimately do to the regional economy, not to mention quality of life in the Waikato region.
  • The reported results of the model raise questions about its built-in assumptions. For example if the economic contribution of dairy is based on GDP in the last couple of seasons - rather than tax paid profit over the long term - the economic contribution of dairy will be massively overstated and hence the cost of reductions in dairy will be grossly exaggerated.

“The model does not appear to consider the alternative:   Restoring the Waikato to a healthy, productive river is part of a transition that the community will make over time to a more diversified, sustainable, thriving regional economy. If we do this right, the regional economy will continue to grow as we invest in restoration activities and as new businesses are attracted to the Waikato region.

“Without being able to scrutinise the entire report, and the model used and its underlying assumptions, it is a big ask for the public to trust the reports’ conclusions.The Waikato Regional Council should be running a publicly transparent process around the modelling and the report,” said Mr Hackwell.

“It is a real pity this is not happening”.

“Whatever the costs associated with achieving swimmable and fishable are, they reflect the level of degradation that has been largely driven by unsustainable intensification of farming over recent decades.
The sectors responsible for this degradation should bear most of the cost of restoration as they are the ones who have been profiting from not looking after the environment," said Mr Hackwell.