Opposition parties are calling for Government action on polluted fresh water following a report showing 61 percent of monitored water ways are ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’. A charge for water for farmers would help solve the growing pollution in New Zealand according to Green Party MP Gareth Hughes.
Last week Mr Hughes said that the Government’s arguments are “weak”. They claim their true agenda is to avoid confronting the agriculture industry over growing concerns of over allocation of fresh water to farms, which is where a charge for fresh water allocation to farmers would solve the problem.
“The Government is blaming extreme events like extreme rainfall patterns and volcanic eruptions as I think it is an incredibly weak excuse to really hide their true agenda which is that they’re not prepared to crack down on the source of pollution, which we know in New Zealand, a big part of it is dairy intensification,” says Mr Hughes.
The dairy industry has been slow over the past year following struggling global milk prices, yet despite this Mr Hughes believes a further cost to farmers will not hurt profitability.
“So take water pricing, which is something we’ve been promoting for a long time now, if farmers have access to uncharged water they will use it prolifically, so a small marginal charge actually encourages more efficient use, more efficient investment with the equipment they’re purchasing so [a small charge on water] can actually help them save money in the long run.”
However, according to DairyNZ a charge on water would force a “fundamental” restructuring of resource allocation. Environmental Policy manager for DairyNZ Mike Scarsbrook says a price on water would not be a “viable alternative” to the current system under the Resource Management Act.
“The basis of the Resource Management Act is that we’re looking to more sustainable management of our resources. As a country we have a whole range of natural resources – soil, water, etc. – that the RMA sets out to manage the use and development of those resources in a way that provides for current generations use of the resources but also for future generations. So I put my faith in the Resource Management Act as it is currently set out to do that sustainable resource management and I don’t see charging, which would require a fundamental shift in the way we manage our resources, as a viable alternative,” says Mr Scarsbrook.
Mr Scarsbrook said that while there is a long way to go in improving water standards, the Government’s National Policy Statement, that outlines the goals for fresh water standards, is a good first step.
“In terms of the regulations the [Government] has put in place I think the general sense is that the [National Policy Statement] was a good first step but there are significant gaps in it that need to be fixed and I know there is a lot of work going on to reduce some of those gaps. Certainly our view here from DairyNZ is that the National Policy Statement for Fresh Water Management is a really good first step,” according to Mr Scarsbrook.
Recently opposition parties have called for the Government to take action over water pollution, with the Labour Party saying “New Zealanders should be able to swim in their local rivers”.
Labour Party leader Andrew Little has accused the Government’s national standard of water being merely ‘wadeable’ as “appalling”. However, Mr Scarsbrook says that while this standard may be low, it does not restrict communities from pushing for higher standards of water quality.
“[National Policy Statement] they refer to sites that are below the national line because of natural features. The classic example is the Ashburton river where there’s a breeding colony of seabirds upstream from state highway one, so downstream of that water way there is high levels of E.coli, which is way higher than swimmable water quality standards. So of course there is no point trying to achieve water quality there because to do that you have to get rid of those native birds which is clearly not the right outcome.
“So there are real challenges to having swimmability everywhere. I think we need to have a conversation as a country about what does swimmability mean; does it mean everywhere at all flows, all times of the year, or does it mean we want to make sure that the first step is everywhere people want to swim or would like to swim or have swam in the past and want to restore them,” says Mr Scarsbrook.
Minister for the Environment Dr Nick Smith could not be reached for comment, however last week he responded to question over water pollution in Parliament saying the government had invested record amounts in restoring the quality of fresh water in New Zealand.