As reported in the media, (Oct 9th, 2020) farmers, scientists, council staff and others are currently gathered in Palmerston North for the best part of two weeks to debate proposed changes to the One Plan. The One Plan is Horizons Regional Council’s rulebook for managing natural resources across its area, running from Whanganui to Tararua and Ruapehu to Horowhenua. It took 10 years of consultation and cost nearly $10 million before it was signed off in 2014. By and large, it works. But one section, dealing with nitrogen, has been a thorn in the plan’s side since its inception.
It is fascinating when reading this report to speculate what is conscious and what is unconscious bias in reporting, and where it comes from.
We learn that this dastardly nitrogen comes from ‘many sources ….., ranging from vegetable farm runoff to treated wastewater from towns and cities.’ All very true, and utterly safe to report because the Environment Minister David Parker has previously stated that he is prepared to exempt Horowhenua vegetable growers from the requirements of freshwater standards due to the amount of vegetables they produce. (Sorry Horowhenua, but the PN Hospital is building a new cancer treatment unit). Plus, the major source of pollution for the lower Manawatu River (the Palmerston North City Council) is already in the process of upgrading its wastewater scheme.
But then, tucked away a couple of paragraphs later, we learn that Tararua Dairy Farmers can’t comply with the Plan either. I’m sure that isn’t because of ‘vegetable runoff’. No mention of the fact that it is dairy farm runoff/leaching plus Fonterra factory waste that has decimated the Mangatainoka and Makuri rivers, both once notable fisheries, as well as the mid-Manawatu river. Or that it is by far the most prevalent and widespread source of nitrogen pollution in the region. Horowhenua’s vegetable production is compact, concentrated and intensive. The regions dairy farms are widespread, pervasive and affect all of the region’s rivers.
Nope, just a passing mention in one area only. Was it conscious bias, unconscious bias, or editorial policy? And how do you get a problem addressed if you won’t recognize or report on it?
As NZFFA President Dr Peter Trolove puts it: The $64,000 question is whether nitrate pollution of freshwater can be managed via regulations derived from an unproven model such as Overseer, modified with input from polluters and regulators. For example, since the implementation of the Selwyn Te Waihora Water Plan the nitrate levels in the Selwyn River have increased from a 5 year average of 5.9 mg/L NO3-N by 50%. (NZFFA average August to October 2020 was 9.4 mg/L suggesting a disconnect between theory and reality.) To be fair the drains and springs in this water zone have been fenced and landscaped with native grasses and shrubs – a credible strategy to manage sediment & phosphorus runoff but of no value for managing nitrate.
Ken Sims is a life member of the NZFFA based in the Manawatu.