Opinion by Bill Benfield
An abridged version from the late Bill Benfield’s book “Water Quality and Ownership” published by Tross Publishing, 2017
Around 17 or 18 years ago Fish and Game NZ started raising concerns about dairy run-off into rivers. That concern was proper.
But Fish and Game failed to look at other things that were happening.
When the heat came on, Fonterra the biggest player in dairying, moved quickly to deflect attention by proposing the Dairy and Clean Streams Accord of 2003. It s a text book example of a Clayton’s solution – how to maintain and expand intensive agriculture and its serious degradation of rivers while avoiding the real problems.
It involves fencing off river (and lake) margins and banning all animals from waterways.
As an added public “sweetener” for the “green” lobby, the fenced off river margins were to be “planted with natives.”
Not only has it been successfully sold to central and local government but also to Fish and Game and the Green Party.
In the end, the Fish and Game campaign, by settling for fencing rivers, did nothing to stop the huge expansion of dairying in Canterbury.
The only thing achieved was the exclusion of the public and recreational fishers who are Fish and Game license holders, plus of course, a few animals.
By focussing on dairying, it has deflected attention from the other major polluters, a classic case being the 2009 report n the Manawatu by the Cawthron Institute which rated the river as the dirtiest in the Western world and pointed the finger firmly to dairying
In fact, the Manawatu River also had to put up with partially treated sewerage and untreated storm water from urban areas ranging from Eketahuna village (450 people) to Palmerston North city (88,000).scattered through the huge catchment. The river and its tributaries carries industrial burden from breweries, pharmaceutical works, milk processing plants and freezing works and there is also forestry and council bulldozer operations in the river bed. contributing to silting.
The price is being paid for dirty dairying. The rivers are being fenced off!
While fencing off rivers and banning all stock sounds good in principle, the reality is quite different.
The river/streams are no longer subject to browse and the riparian strip quickly becomes overgrown with blackberry, broom, convolvulus, gorse and even poisonous tutu.
Not only does the river become inaccessible—but riparian planting does nothing to stop most pollution entering the waterway.
The fact is riparian planting does nothing to stop nitrates from entering the waterways.
River margins can be managed better. It just requires a more focused system of river management.
There is certainly a case that where there is no intensive dairying, river banks should be left as in near as natural unfenced condition as possible.
Thereafter the issue is stock. Stock like sheep, goats and horses at the density of traditional farming, are not the problem.
© “Stock like sheep—–at the density of traditional farming, are not the problem”.
Cattle can be a different issue. Where cattle densities are high and stock receive supplementary feed from offsite, they should be kept far from the river – it could be 50 metres or more. In such situations the ideal would be to significantly de-stock the land.
If mixed stock are grazed, i.e. sheep and cattle, then the “selecta-fence” can be the answer – two top wires to stop cattle and no bottom wires so as to let sheep through.
As an example of corporate posturing by big dairying to take the heat off, the fencing of rivers programme has been a stunning success.
The only trouble is that it has done nothing for the rivers. It has allowed their continued degradation, often unseen and for most purposes, particularly recreation, rivers become no longer accessible.
And to repeat as Mike Joy’s “Polluted Inheritance (page 34) makes it quite clear, riparian planting does nothing to stop nitrates from entering waterways.
© “Cattle can be a different issue” – Mackenzie basin