Who will pay to restore New Zealand’s freshwater resource – the polluters or the public?

Opinion by Dr Peter Trolove
President NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers

The Problem
It is generally accepted that 95 % of New Zealand’s freshwater pollution can be attributed to intensive farming practices – practices such as dairying and commercial vegetable production. “Point source pollution” from sources such as factory waste and sewage pipes is readily identified and managed. Diffuse pollution from modern intensive farming is less visible and more problematic.
The Politics
Politicians make decisions with a short term perspective. Short term gains in GDP trump long term generational losses from the resulting environmental damage.
Decisions are influenced at central and local government level by donations, self-interest, and pressure from powerful lobby groups. Many local government representatives have farming connections.
Cattle duffers on a jury may be honest men enough, but they’re bound to visit lightly sins of those who cattle duff. Melbourne Punch 15 July 1888
Ecosystem Services
The Resource Management Act (RMA) and similar environmental legislation is intended for society to exploit natural resources in a sustainable manner in order that the rights of future generations are protected. Aquatic ecosystems have a finite limit in their ability to accommodate both water abstraction and pollution.
A monetary metaphor might suggest we can live on the “interest” provided by our natural systems but not “interest and capital”.
Recent reports of NZ’s ecosystem health confirm we are taking more from our freshwater resource than it can sustain.
Pollution is profitable
Privatising public water for private profit has created wealth for those landowners and speculators who have benefited from Government policy and subsidies.
As the New Zealand agricultural industry grows its economic base and infrastructure on the back of environmentally unsustainable practices it becomes unpalatable to reverse the situation. The result has seen a massive public relations campaign by farmers who recognise they are fast losing their social licence to continue to plunder and pollute our aquifers, rivers and streams. 
Who pays?
The question for all New Zealanders has now become who should pay to mitigate/restore the damage to our freshwater resource – the polluters and beneficiaries of the previous National Government’s largesse or the disenfranchised public who involuntarily funded ill-advised irrigation schemes and are now left with their polluted legacy?
Thanks to short term policies and self-interest of central and local government representatives, restoring New Zealand’s freshwater has become a politically charged high stakes game.
Inevitably there will be a cost to farmers and the public.

© Wanted! Fresh clean rivers like this in both quality and quantity of flow


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1 Response to Who will pay to restore New Zealand’s freshwater resource – the polluters or the public?

  1. Grant Henderson says:

    I note that Irrigation NZ has its office in Wellington. They must figure they need a presence there so they can lobby for freebies from the environment, paid for by future generations.

    Good article here on the real story: https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/71734277/nz-irrigation-and-its-guilty-secrets

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