CATHERINE DELAHUNTY: The Government can’t ignore the water crisis anymore

We can’t ignore the water crisis in this country any longer. Two reports, one issued by the PM’s science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman a few weeks ago, and another by Statistics New Zealand and the Ministry for the Environment on Thursday, make it clear that whatever the National Government thinks it is doing to protect our rivers, lakes and aquifers, it isn’t working.

Yesterday’s report shows that while our urban rivers and streams, which make up just two per cent of New Zealand’s waterways, are more seriously polluted than rivers and streams in rural areas, it’s the rural areas where things are going downhill fast. Now’; the time to stop this decline, but it will take some serious guts to challenge the way we use our land and grow our economy; which the National Government doesn’t have the stomach for.

We’ve long known that there’s a relationship between the increasing number of dairy cows on our farms over the last decade, and the declining quality of water in our rivers, lakes and aquifers. But the National Government won’t do what’s necessary to prevent pollution going into our waterways; halting conversions of farms to dairy and reducing the number of cows already on our farms.

Instead, it’s doing the least it can while allowing pollution to keep flowing into our rivers, and keeps patting itself on the back for throwing money at clean-up programmes that don’t address the problem that too many cows has created.

And why are too many cows a problem? Cows urine contains heaps of nitrogen – a nutrient that they get from the grass they eat, that then goes from the cow into the ground and leaches into our groundwater and runs-off into our rivers. Lots of farmers deal with cow urine and poos in the dairy shed by storing it in settling ponds and spraying it evenly into their fields. But you can’t put nappies on a cow standing out in a paddock or store what they excrete there in neat ponds. Nitrogen in our water can cause all sorts of problems, from excessive weed growth to making bore water unsafe to drink.

This week’s report showed that the amount of nitrogen in our monitored rivers is getting worse at 55 per cent of sites. Nearly 30 per cent more nitrogen is leaching into groundwater.

So you can see why the Green Party have been calling for a moratorium on new dairy farm conversions and a reduction in the number of cows allowed on farms since ages ago.

Now the National Government is starting to get it; Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy admitted this week that dairy conversions can’t continue and that instead of relying on the white gold of milk solids to grow our economy, adding value to our products is a better approach. But will they do anything about it? It’s unlikely; perhaps they’ll wait for a few more reports first.

Catherine Delahunty is Green Party spokesperson on Education, Water, Toxics, and Te Tiriti o Waitangi.