A trout and river advocacy, the NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers, is calling for urgent action on the plight of New Zealand’s deteriorating rivers both in terms of water quality and flow.

The call came in the wake of a reported article last week from Reuters in the USA’s prestigious “New York Times” and the UK’s “The Times” which said “New Zealand’s clean, green image took a beating this summer as tourists travelling through the countryside posted pictures of lakes and rivers off limits due to contamination by farm effluent, garbage and human faeces.” The article said “a booming dairy farming industry, along with a surge in tourists seeking unspoiled natural attractions, has taken its toll on the country’s environment, heavily marketed as ‘100% Pure’.”

NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers president Graham Carter of Hamilton said a sharp warning was several years in 2011 when then Prime Minister John Key was taken to task on the UK’s BBC hardtalk programme about the lack of credibility in New Zealand’s claim to be “100% pure.”

“Since 2011 we’ve had over seven years of inaction in terms of a remedy. Worse still government speeded up deterioration by its policies of rampant growth in dairying and other development. The previous government’s Prime Minister Key and his senior minister Steven Joyce pushed for maximum growth in dairying, even pushing dairying expansion in low rainfall regions like the Mackenzie Basin and Canterbury,” he said. “The new Labour-led government in 18 months has not done much either. It seems procrastination and inertia is the politicians’ answer.”

A current dry summer and soaring temperatures with lower river levels was putting pressure on flows. Already warnings were out from regional councils about toxic algae in rivers due to nutrients leaching into freshwater aqua-systems. Graham Carter said it was “a bad, bad look” in the eyes of overseas countries hearing of the crisis around New Zealand’s rivers. It would adversely affect long term the economy by undermining marketing claims of “100% pure” that were integral to selling exports and attracting tourists.

“The underlying cause is that politicians like John Key and Steven Joyce were afflicted with a myopic ethos of focusing solely on more and more rather than building quality. John Key as tourism minister advocated more and more tourists whereas he should have been advocating higher quality, more affluent tourists. Similarly with dairy cows. Added-value has been talked about for decades but there’s been little overall action to implement it.”

John Key failed to upgrade infrastructure to cope with the flood of tourists, particularly the environmental effects of low yielding freedom campers and their debris and effluent.

“The lack of foresight and planning by the then government is starkly evident today with rubbish, human faeces and crowding of the countryside, particularly around river banks,” said Graham Carter.

Graham Carter recalled that the John Key government arrogantly sacked an elected council in Environment Canterbury and put in its own puppet council so as to speed up dairying expansion. In addition Conservation and environment minister Nick Smith in the Key-led government single-handedly set ‘acceptable’ environmental limits for nitrogen at a level way higher than when they start to degrade waterways.

“That government has a lot to answer for and while this government has not made any meaningful moves to remedy things, it’s lining itself up for an election year barrage in 2020,” he said. “Amazingly the politicians at their peril ignore the increasingly loud voice of public opinion calling for action.”

In a Colmar Brunton survey conducted last month, 82 percent of respondents said they were “extremely or very” concerned about the pollution of rivers and lakes, more than any other issue including living costs, child poverty and climate change.

“While synthetic nitrogen is the key driver of the dairy intensification and expansion that leads to the contamination, it’s a dangerous double whammy as those same dairy farms are taking water from the aquifers and rivers, diminishing flow and thus increasing the concentration levels of any contamination.”

Graham Carter added that dairying was for many districts the major factor but there was also other detriments in the monoculture of pine plantations and reckless clear felling with subsequent siltation of streams, rivers and estuarine waters, urban discharges of sewer and stormwater into rivers particularly at times of rainfall and New Zealand’s cavalier use of chemicals and poisons such as 1080.

“Agriculture, forestry, central and local government need to wake up, listen to the people’s concern and taker urgent action,” he said. “Otherwise the legacy for tomorrow’s New Zealanders will be shameful, quite apart from the immediate adverse effects when overseas countries learn more and more, that clean-and-green and 100%-pure are outright lies.”

“And how can you have a ‘well-being’ budget, when the public is faced with diseased, dying or dead waterways?”

Graham Carter

President of the Federation of Freshwater Anglers

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