Clean Streams snapshot out of focus

Levels of serious non-compliance over discharge of dairy farm effluent have been miscalculated by the Dairying and Cleans Streams Accord Snapshot Report, Forest & Bird says.

The Accord is supposed to monitor the impact of agriculture on New Zealand’s waterways, but its annual “snapshot report” issued today contains numerous inaccuracies, Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell says.

“The Accord partners are not paying enough attention to getting the figures right on important environmental indicators – unfortunately their snapshot is out of focus.”

Figures and calculations used in the snapshot report, released to Forest & Bird under the Official Information Act, show several inaccuracies and inconsistencies, meaning the figures are unreliable as a benchmark of the dairy industry’s environmental performance.

For example, the released figures show that nationally more than 1200 dairy farms were in serious non-compliance with their consents for effluent discharge. However the report uses just 750 farms to calculate the national average.

Another example of the mistakes behind this year’s data is that it claims Southland lost more than 100 dairy farms between 2006/07 and 2007/08. This conflicts with Environment Southland figures showing that the number of dairy farms in the region has been steadily increasing every year.

“The impact of dairy farming on our freshwater environment is a huge problem and it is crucial that efforts to improve the situation get it right when it comes to monitoring and reporting. We need to know we can trust the figures if we are to do better for the environment,” Kevin Hackwell says.

Even if the figures in the report could be relied on, they make alarming reading, Mr Hackwell says.

“While there are four regions where serious non-compliance with consents is less than 2%, there are another four regions (Northland, Horizons, Wellington and Canterbury) where serious non-compliance is 20% or more. In Wellington the level of serious non-compliance has risen from last year’s publically reported 2% to a staggering 28% reported this year.”

“It appears that a minority of dairy farmers think they can get away with poor environmental performance. They are breaking the law and degrading the quality of our lakes, rivers and streams, and letting down those farmers who do comply.”

Mr Hackwell says a major factor in ongoing freshwater degradation is poor enforcement by regional councils in some of the poorly performing regions.

“Unless councils take monitoring and enforcement seriously we will continue to see poor performance by a significant minority of farmers.”

Discharge of dairy effluent and run-off off nutrients from dairy farms has contributed to degradation of waterways, leading to rivers and lakes that are not safe to swim in, causing algae levels to flourish and clog waterways, and destroying fish and other freshwater species.

The Clean Streams Accord was established five years ago by partners Fonterra, Ministry for the Environment, Local Government NZ and the Ministry of Agriculture with the aim of reducing the impact of dairy farming on freshwater.