Why are the Polluters “Managing” our Freshwater?

by Dr Peter Trolove
President NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers (NZFFA)

In the US the Environmental Protection Agency EPA sets the limit for safe drinking water at 10mg/L NO3-N
In New Zealand the maximum acceptable value for nitrate in drinking water is 11.3 mg/L
Both these limits are considered toxic for human babies less than 6 months old.
In Canterbury the Canterbury Regional Council, (Ecan), is responsible for managing the region’s freshwater quality, quantity, and ecosystems through managing land use.
Ecan has delegated this responsibility to the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, (CWMS), with its 10 Water Zone Committees created primarily to oversee freshwater management for the purpose of increasing the scale and efficiency of irrigation in the region.
Over a Million Cows
Massive irrigation development in Canterbury has seen dairy cow numbers rise from around 120,000 cows to 1.2 million. Seventy per cent (70%) of the recently developed irrigated dairy farms are located on coarse, porous, “leaky” soils prone to nitrate and pathogen leaching into the shallow aquifers beneath.
Ecan allows the Water Zone Committees, heavily weighted with water users, whose income is dependent on pollution, to set the pollution limits for the aquifers within their zones.
This has proved to be an environmental disaster for Canterbury’s lowland aquifer sourced rivers and streams, as the water zone committees have completely ignored aquatic ecosystems when setting limits for nitrate leaching.
Profits First
An increasing number of rural wells exceed the 11.3 mg/L limit, evidence that the Water Zone Committees are more concerned with profit than public health.
The Environment Canterbury Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management Act 2010, Ecan Act, legalized this situation by giving legal primacy of the CWMS over the RMA 1991. 
While Ecan Act has achieved its purpose in greatly expanding the areas of Canterbury under irrigation to over 500,000 ha, that expansion has come with the cost of a concurrent increase in water pollution, both nitrate and pathogens, primarily due to industrial dairying. 
The Selwyn Te Waihora Water Zone has set a nitrate limit of 8.5 mg/L for the unconfined aquifer in its zone. It has conducted no nitrate testing or monitoring of its plan to manage nitrate pollution. 
Vested Interests
The Zone’s farm environment plan is based on a conceptual model (OVERSEER) initially developed by a fertilizer company. The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) presently has an independent panel assessing whether OVERSEER is fit for purpose.
Again vested interests are in control.
Why are we continuing to let those who profit from pollution set pollution limits based on an as yet, unproven model?
Why are New Zealand’s public health and environmental protection agencies not in charge?
Where’s DoC?
Why has the Department of Conservation not turned out to defend Canterbury’s Water Conservation Orders (WCOs) established to protect the region’s iconic braided rivers whose flows are being abstracted to the detriment of these rivers’ fish habitat – native as well as trout and salmon?
Why did Ecan not take a precautionary approach to this massive irrigation development, as required by legislation, when Ecan knew that there were no proven means to manage or regulate the nitrate pollution that they knew would follow? 
Future generations of Cantabrians will be left to address the consequences of mismanagement and self-interest from Ecan and the Water Zone Committee’s pollution tolerant “farm environment plans”. 



Dairying in low rainfall areas – Mackenzie Basin

This entry was posted in Articles, Newsletter. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Why are the Polluters “Managing” our Freshwater?

  1. Dave Rhodes says:

    Could someone explain why high lead levels in Otago went unreported for so long?

    https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/national/435693/residents-really-upset-about-high-lead-levels-in-water

  2. Charles Henry says:

    One week to go for Freshwater Improvement Fund expression of interest round
    Kia ora,

    Applicants have one week left to submit an expression of interest (EOI) for the second round of the 20/21 Freshwater Improvement Fund. Applications close midday 10 February 2021.

    Find more information including eligibility criteria, guidance and EOI form on the Ministry for the Environment’s website.

    The Freshwater Improvement Fund supports the management of New Zealand’s lakes, rivers, streams, groundwater and wetlands.

    To support the economic recovery from COVID-19 the funding will be prioritised to initiatives that create employment opportunities to carry out this freshwater management work.

    If you have any questions, please contact FIF@mfe.govt.nz.

    • Greg Kemp says:

      Seems like a very poor and distasteful joke from a Government doing painfully little in its 4th year of office to tackle the problems it promised to address.
      Can’t blame labour for problems created by the Key government, but can blame them for an abysmal failure to do anything about it!

  3. Hugh Francis says:

    So well said Greg. Labour promised at 2017 election to start the waterway restoration job. That is four (4) years ago.

  4. Tony Orman says:

    The late John Henderson, NZ Deerstalkers Assn., president summed it up way back in 1969. He said:-
    “The pollution law of this country is the product of frightened little men. Frightened of the publicity —frightened of the cost of a cleanup — frightened at the extent to which pollution exists right now. Frightened of the hard work required to rectify the pollution. Frightened to admit their past decisions and inactivity have given rise to that pollution.”

  5. David Haynes says:

    Last year I fished four rivers in succession, all abutting dairy farms and all but one had cows, or evidence of such, alongside and in unfenced rivers. All were Westland suppliers.

    As I frequently read that dirty dairying is the preserve of “a few laggards” I pondered the statistical chances of me visiting these few laggards so efficiently. I contacted Stack Exchange, an on-line mathematics forum, whose members enlightened me regarding “hypergeometric distribution”. This mathematical function reveals that the chances of visiting four farms, out of a national total of around 15,000 farms, to find three of them with cows shitting in and alongside rivers is….

    1 in 7,110,000,000,000.

  6. Nicholas Lorenz says:

    The system is loaded against environment and public. Where are the people’s guardians such as local bodies, DoC and central government. Labour promised in 2017 to address the state of rivers but have done virtually zilch (zero) except murmur a bit of rhetoric by ministers Parker and O’Connor. Lip service.
    Is there no conscience to survive the public interest?
    I wonder if party political donations are involved?
    The sea fishing industry does; why wouldn’t other corporates (dairying) and corporates like Fonterra?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

The maximum upload file size: 80 MB. You can upload: image, audio, video, document, spreadsheet, interactive, text, archive, code, other. Links to YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other services inserted in the comment text will be automatically embedded.