NZFFA Report Mar 2017

  • 31/03/2017

It's all gone Pete Tong for Nick the Dick

 It’s fair to say that Minister for the Environment, Nick Smith, has had a pretty rough ride lately - his latest proposed freshwater standards have been ridiculed, Federated Mountain Clubs and Forest & Bird have joined Fish & Game and ECO by resigning from the Land and Water Forum, and the media is having a field day reporting on the death of once iconic Canterbury waterways, such as the Selwyn, Ellesmere and North Ashburton. Regarding Smith’s proposed amendments to the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management, whilst most critics have focussed on the sneaky shift of E.coli concentration of 540 faecal coliform units (CFU) per 100 millitres of water from a B standard to an A standard, there are some other equally concerning issues to be highlighted. The wheels are really falling off Nick Smith’s attempts at mollifying the public’s passion for freshwater while keeping big dairy corporate lobbyists happy:


  1. The bottom line for the proposed amendments is to ensure business-as-usual for continued intensification of agribusiness. There is not one single proposal which stems or seeks to supercede the high input, high output intensive farming model that has been responsible for polluting our rural rivers and lakes.
  2.  Ministry for the Environment and DOC state that there are 425,000km of rivers, plus about (my figure) 75,000 kilometres of lake edge, a total of roughly 500,000km of combined river and lake side. If you use GIS to map centre lines of all our rivers and streams there are actually closer to 508,000 km of river in New
  3. The “90% of rivers and lakes swimmable by 2040” only applies to 54,000 km of rivers and lake edge which will actually be monitored i.e. about 10% of our total freshwater edge.
  4.  Thus the real figure is 90% of 10% of our lakes and rivers swimmable by 2040; that is 9%.  Unfortunately 9% doesn’t sound as good.
  5.  Of the remaining 90% of freshwater not covered by the standard, approximately 50% is in native land cover and 40% in agricultural land.
  6.  The 9% that comprise Smith’s swimmable rivers are mainly near to urban areas and most tend to be towards the downstream end and near the coast.
  7.  Upstream of this is the agricultural land, where Crown Irrigation Investments Ltd (wholly owned by the Government) is handing out $460 million in subsidies expressly for mega-irrigation schemes.
  8.  the irrigation schemes do two things:
    a) they increase land intensification, regardless of what is being farmed and
    b) they consume freshwater from rivers.
  9.  The above results in more nutrient load, often more E.coli load and all this is concentrated as a result of the consumed water taken out of the rivers.
  10.  So, Nick Smith and Nathan Guy subsidise pollution upstream and impose swimmable freshwater standards on councils downstream.
  11.  $450 Million of taxpayer money has already been committed to clean up freshwater pollution caused by….the intensive farming practices enabled by $460M subsidised irrigation schemes!
  12.  There are still zero limits or any definition on how much water should be allocated for consumptive use such as irrigation, despite a draft National Environment Standard on water quantity being published for consultation in 2008.  Could this be because managing allocation within ecological health limits for rivers would single-handedly put big-irrigation out of business?
  13.  Most of the current Government will be dead by 2040, so at least there will be no comeback for them if their swimmable target is not met.  Such ridiculous extreme dates (predator free by 2050, Waikato rivers swimmable in 80 years’ time, etc.) for things which can and should be addressed sooner, are a convenient way to appear to be doing something.

As galling is the estimated cost of the proposed exclusion of cattle, deer and pigs from fresh waterways - $2 billion dollars, no details have been released on who will foot the bill. Having just spent a delightful week fishing a few streams on a Canterbury high country station I could not help but look around me and wonder how anyone could be expected to fence off a sub-alpine area with deep gorgy rivers and flats prone to massive floods. While a length or two of 2.5mm tensile wire can keep animals out of rivers it does nothing to prevent highly mobile soluble nitrogen, E.coli, enterococci, sediment and associated phosphorus from pouring into a river during flood  conditions – and hence has a negligible impact on the health and recreational safety of our  rivers and lakes.

On the subject of fencing of streams, a number of interesting articles have come to light recently.  One is from the Journal of Environmental Management where a paper models the effectiveness of riparian planting – benefits are couched in economic terms, mainly savings from lost leached nitrogen off rural land, but it did identify that any such riparian planting would need to be contiguous along the whole length of the waterway and at least five metres wide each side to have any positive effect.  Compare this to your typical hot wire one or two metres from the bank edge. While not part of the paper it did note that there has been no audit of how much riparian planting has actually been done, and what impact it has had on the nutrient load, physical and chemical characteristics of the adjacent freshwater body.  Bill Benfield has written a similarly thought provoking article on the disadvantages of fencing off waterways, citing them as a barrier to public access. Having explored most Nelson / Marlborough rivers and come across the dairy farm hot wire strung right along the river edge, creating an inaccessible tangle of scrub, his observations certainly hit home.

 If you believe not enough is being done to protect our freshwater, either sit on your favourite armchair raging at the Government (and don’t bother because no one listens) saying things like: all politicans are the same, it makes no difference, etc. Or you can  submit on their proposed standards by going here…

 Fight the good fight!

 David Haynes

Past President New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers




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