Wednesday, 06 November 2019 11:55

Fonterra wants change to water rules

Written by  Sudesh Kissun
Fonterra opposes proposals to move current fencing of waterways to a 5m setback. Fonterra opposes proposals to move current fencing of waterways to a 5m setback.

Fonterra wants the Government to remove suggested maximum required levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in streams.

In its submission on the Government’s Action of Healthy Waterways proposal, Fonterra says it “strongly opposes” some of the maximum required levels for dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP).

Farm Source Group director Richard Allen says the discussion document does not contain sufficient economic analysis to justify the proposed bottom line values.

Fonterra believes that in-stream bottom lines should only be used where there is a direct link to the outcomes sought. 

“The inclusion of DIN and DRP as attributes does not well represent biological ecosystem health, and the impacts of these attributes on individuals and communities is not well understood.”

The co-op supports a DairyNZ proposal to consider a total nitrogen bottom line that reflects a more conservative protection level for fish and other organisms.

Under the Government’s proposal, regional councils would amend regional plans by 2025 to meet new ecosystem health standards. Modelling suggests reductions in nitrogen losses of 25-80% would be required to meet these in affected catchments.

DairyNZ says it supports policies that protect ecosystem health alongside swimability.

“We do not support the proposed nitrogen and phosphorus bottom lines as the most effective way to achieve this. DairyNZ’s position is that these new ‘ecosystem health’ nutrient thresholds are not scientifically robust and are unlikely to achieve improvements in waterway health as sought by the community.”

Fonterra is also opposing the suggested 5m fencing set-backs. Instead it wants the focus of regulation to be on fencing waterways not currently fenced. Excluding cattle from waterways has significant benefits in enhancing ecological quality, water clarity and reducing risk to human health. 

As adopters of stock exclusion ahead of regulation, Fonterra farmers have spent a lot of money and effort to exclude stock from over 98% of the waterways covered by the proposal, the co-op says.

“Farmers should not be forced to relocate these existing fences unless there is a clear scientific rationale for doing so,” Richard Allen said.

“Common sense tells you that farmers who have voluntarily fenced waterways years before it was mandated should not be punished for having done the right thing. 

“Instead, the focus should be on waterways that haven’t been fenced.”

Correction: This article previously stated that Fonterra wanted to remove the minimum required levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in streams, rather than the maximum levels. This has been amended. 

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Restoring our freshwater systems

OPINION: When I started writing this piece, I was sitting in my Kaiapoi office on a sweltering 30-degree summer’s day, and I could hear faint “plops” as youngsters pulled “phat manus” and “bombs” off the bridge into the Kaiapoi River as generations before them have done.

Do they know that the river is deemed “unsuitable” for swimming with E. coli levels of up to 2,420 per 100ml? This information is available on LAWA’s website, Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA) - Can I swim here? It makes for sobering reading. With levels this high, we should supply these youngsters with full PPE gear to wear over their shorts. The saddest fact is that this story is repeating itself from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

We are witnessing the systemic collapse of New Zealand’s freshwater systems as our environment can no longer handle the extreme pressure we have placed on it through decades of urban and rural intensification. We have taken too much from our environment and we must start giving back.

Change is coming with a renewed focus on healthy waterways through the National Policy for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM), which the Government announced in August 2020, as well as Plan Change 7 to the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan (PC7), which progressed through submissions and a hearing in front of independent hearing commissioners last year.

I attended the PC7 hearing in December and it boosted my spirits to observe the passion our community has for improving Waimakariri’s waterways. I hope the changes that come out of PC7 will be bold and far reaching.

The concept of Te Mana o te Wai underpins the NPS-FM and places the highest value on the health of freshwater systems. This philosophy is the new basis for how we, as a society, interact with our environment. The NPS-FM creates a framework for change, but we must also change how we think as council bodies, as communities, as businesses, and as individuals about how our systems/practices must shift from productive growth mode to sustainability mode, and how we can live within an acceptable environmental footprint. On an individual level, we need to realise how, over the long term, that wet paddock or riverbed block would benefit the planet if it were left to revert to a wetland or a more natural state.

This year the Waimakariri Water Zone Committee will focus on priority areas and working with the community to improve our waterways.

We will support change through three newlyformed catchment groups – the Sefton Saltwater Creek Catchment Group, the Landcare Working Group, and the Biodiversity Group.

We are ahead of the curve in Waimakariri in terms of engaging with farmers, waterway conservation groups and the wider community, but we still have a long journey ahead to restore our rivers and streams.

We must work together in a united way to leave our land and water for future generations to inherit in a better state than when we found it.

Whatungarongaro te tangata, toitū te whenua - As man disappears from sight, the land remains.

Michael Blackwellis is chair of Waimakariri Water Zone Committee.

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