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Guy Trafford takes a look at some of the water issues surrounding Canterbury particularly the Selwyn District and believes there is a brighter future ahead - eventually

Guy Trafford takes a look at some of the water issues surrounding Canterbury particularly the Selwyn District and believes there is a brighter future ahead - eventually

Fish and Game have been raising headlines yet again with the news that Canterbury has a water quality issue with nitrate levels.

They’re correct; it has.

Everybody, especially those in Canterbury has known this for a long time. The real issue is what should be done about it.

If Dr Mike Joy, among others, is listened to, the average kiwi would assume that nothing is or has been done. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

But is it enough? Probably not and the problem is likely to get worse before it gets better. But to do what Dr Joy suggests and turn back the clock and get rid of both irrigation and dairying is plainly ridiculous. It makes about as much sense as suggesting that we should all adopt riding bikes everywhere because cars are polluting the atmosphere.

What would be a lot more helpful would be starting a constructive conversation about having got ourselves into this state what we do to get ourselves out of it. And I say “we” because Canterbury is just the tip (quite a big one) of the iceberg. We could be talking about the Waikato catchment and the quality of water in the Waikato and Waipa rivers, the Bay of Plenty, Manawatu, parts of Hawkes Bay, Poverty Bay Otago , Southland and so forth.

Not all of these are caused by dairying and there are other contributors other than other pastoral systems although in some form or another we do have to recognise that many current and historical farming practises have been major reason the water ways in New Zealand are in the state they are.

The felling and burning of our native forests were the first steps of getting to where we are now. So, turning back the clock is not going to happen and hopefully we are smart enough to find more constructive solutions.

Looking at the Canterbury situation which too often gets the headlines it may be useful to see how we got here, at least the recent history. Many people in the early 2,000’s were voicing concerns about the water quality in Canterbury and by 2007 several people opposed to the way ECan was conducting business in the allocation of water rights stood for election. Also, at this time farmer groups were unhappy with ECan mainly due to the large numbers of unprocessed water consent applications.  Total unprocessed Resource Consent applications peaked in 2007-08 at about 2,500 with water making up a large proportion of these.

Due to the general dissatisfaction after the 2008 general elections the Government set up an investigation (led by Wyatt Creech) and in 2010 sacked the then elected members and appointed seven commissioners to address the "urgent problems with water management in Canterbury". The then Minister for the Environment Dr Smith said efficient water management was crucial to New Zealand's competitive advantage and "our clean green brand". And " Government leadership is needed to address Canterbury's lack of a proper allocation plan, increasing problems with water quality and the failure to progress opportunities for water storage."

Nearly ten years on this makes it sound like it was a ‘take-over’ by government however, almost all parties would agree that back pre 2010 ECan was a dysfunctional organisation and some of the kinder comments were that it was a “rudderless ship”. Probably what most people in Canterbury have been upset about is the time it has taken to get ECan back to be a democratically elected body as despite promises these would occur in 2013 it will not be until October this year that elections finally take place. So, what this is getting at is that the Government set in place the body that over saw the setting up and completion of many irrigation schemes and the rapid rise in dairy cow numbers.

Under the commissioners ECan did not sit back and do nothing regarding water quality.

Ten Water Zones within the ECan region based upon water catchments have community elected zone members overseeing the use and quality of water within their zone. These zones based upon exidsting water quality trends and current land uses. The first to be set up and the zone that has received the most (negative) publicity is the Selwyn Zone and this arguably has the greatest problems with most catchment water inside of the Rakaia and Waimakariri rivers which form its boundaries ending up in Lake Te Waihora/Ellesmere. This is (largely) the region that Dr Joy is suggesting all cow and irrigation need to be removed from.

The current regulations that came in in 2017 are based upon a premise that the catchment overall can sustain a loading of 15kgs of N per hectare. Given that most dairy farms are operating at somewhere between 35-50 (there are outliers at both ends) there is quite a way to move. However, it should be recognised that not many years ago under (inefficient) flood irrigation techniques there were farms leaching at over 100kgs of N per ha. The current sprinkler systems are a far more efficient use of water and have reduced leaching due to better control over timing and amounts of water applied. Within the Selwyn district there is over 100,000 hectares of irrigated land.

A short precis’ of the ‘new’ rules farmers in the Zone now need to operate under, are:

Since 2017, any farm greater than 10 hectares and using irrigation must complete a Farm Environment plan (FEP) which requires farmers to use best practice and keep N levels below the baseline set by the 2009-2013 average. Where a property's nitrogen loss calculation is greater than 15 kg of nitrogen per hectare per annum, further reduce losses of nitrogen from farming activities by implementing management practices that are in the order of half-way between good management practice and maximum feasible mitigation, which means the required reduction in the losses of nitrogen from the property or farming enterprise are:

30% for dairy; or

22% for dairy support; or

20% for pigs; or

5% for irrigated sheep, beef or deer; or

2% for dryland sheep and beef; or

7% for arable; or

5% for fruit, viticulture or vegetables; or

0% for any other land use.

These are to be achieved by 2037.

So, while things are not going to happen overnight eventually, they will improve. Given the current polices around reducing carbon, these are relatively quick.

In the meantime, land users are not sitting on their hands and there is plenty of work being done around management techniques to lower leaching levels ranging from changing the diet mix, building (further) infrastructure to house cattle at key times and also include destocking to more modest levels.

When it is considered how much landowners have invested in their properties expecting them to turn back the clock is stupid. An average Canterbury farm has probably invested about $1 mln in the dairy shed, over $1 mln in irrigation infrastructure, and about another $1.5 mln in livestock and plant. Plus the land is currently worth about $45,000+ per ha.

The problem didn’t just start with the advent of dairy cows, that just exacerbated it. Other land uses such as lamb finishing on clover and lucerne, potato growing and plenty of intensive arable uses have all contributed. And some have gone back 100 years in their influence.

An interesting addition to the story is a report spotted on TV1 the other night which showed that the New Zealand pasture based cow dairy system uses less water to produce a litre of milk than some plant based ‘milks’ notably soy and almond and far less land than its Northern Hemisphere counterparts and produced less than half the carbon equivalents to them.  A different argument to the water debate but given how transferable around the globe milk production is.

If New Zealand doesn’t produce it the evidence is that someone else will, with far greater cost to the global environment.

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Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink. Simplistically if this country cannot provide, as a fundamental right for its citizens, clean untreated potable water, it has no right to the image of the clean green haven, it self proclaims. The chlorinated water in our greatest city Auckland and the much vaunted tourist jewel in the crown, Queenstown, is downright disgusting. The latter is a mountain lake for heavens sake. How could such pollution have been allowed?

Queenstown: Because it is urban pollution and a request to do the same for the next 35yrs has been made. "It requested a consent duration of 35 years, the maximum allowed, meaning discharges could continue beyond 2050."

There is a vast amount of water available, more than enough to irrigate entirety of Canterbury - just requires infrastructure. Eg, to molify river preservationists could take water from Rakaia at river mouth and pump it back upcountry to irrigate a large portion of the planes. But then there is also enormous water in west coast rivers a few 10's of km from east coast catchments, with lake coleridge able to store a massive amount of water if we choose to use it.

Fully irrigating canterbury would add many billions in export earnings - perhaps even enough to balance our trade deficits, and 10's of thousands of jobs. It doesn't have to be dairy either - irrigated canterbury horticulture has higher earnings per hectare once the top-soil has been thickened up and improved by dairying (sequestering huge amounts of carbon too) for 10-20 years.


Well they would be 10's of thousands of jobs that no one wants - we have to import the labour for many of these farms as it is. And it's not that kiwis don't want to work in the great outdoors. It's that those farms aren't the great outdoors. You only need to Google the satellite view of Selwyn and surrounds and anyone can understand why. There is nothing attractive about it's endless windswept paddocks, denuded of vegetation and surrounded by culverts.

I see the region as a clean water write off. The water problems will never be fixed - Lake Ellesmere will never be fixed. The Avon will never be fixed. The region is too far gone. And the 'new' rules are a joke - why was 2009-2013 chosen as a baseline year? Lake Ellesmere was already dead then, wasn't it?

Yes Kate that is the sad truth of the matter. And NZ, just a small new, almost novel in fact, country has managed to put itself on a pathway to more or less do itself in eventually, environmentally. When we lived in Sth Jersey we soon discovered the affect of all the “Du Pont” activities on the lower reach of the Delaware. Yet, given the history of the massive and rapid rise of industrial USA, that seems a whole lot more explainable than what has been allowed to happen in a “bucolic” land, such as NZ.

What are you even talking about? I live in Selwyn and we have been the fastest growing district in NZ for most of the past 5 years. We also have one of the lowest unemployment rates in NZ. So clearly people do want to live and work here.

Secondly I agree Lake Ellesmere is going to take a long time to fix and is complex but all environmental problems do. 20 years ago Christchurch had the worst air pollution in NZ and there were reports that literally over 100 people died prematurely due to this issue. Now after a decade or so of work the problem is much better and air pollution is rarely a problem. That was an urban pollution issue and we did not have rural people coming into cities and complaining about how terrible city people are and making extreme claims that urbanites were killing their asmatic kids at boarding school (which could have been actually true based on the significant number of people whose health was affected by air pollution).

Currently we have urban people directing a whole lot of hate at farmers for environmental issues which is unhelpful to fixing the actual issue and is very socially divisive. We fixed the air pollution issue but it took time for the results to take effect and we can and will improve our water issues. Two years ago we had lots of media here to declare the Selwyn River was dying. It is not dying and has been flowing pretty well for most of the past two years after we resumed normal rainfall over winter once again. The new rules for farmers will have an impact on our environment but it will take time to have an effect. If you look at the latest ECAN environmental results waterway quality is now improving so please argue with facts not emotion.

I somewhat doubt there is much genuine "hate" for farmers, as you seem to think.

Bear in mind there is a political party that directly pushes this type 'perceived conflict' propaganda, and profits from synthesising such dichotomy: the National party.

Good comment. The Mike Joy's of the world ignore the extremely varied nature of the Plains between the two big rivers, like the vast differences between the shallow, stony soils of Te Pirita, and the metres of wind-blown silt and loam that make the southern bank of the Waimak one of the world's premier small-seed-production areas.

And then there's the 'mote in your eye, the beam in mine' meme - urban types (Christchurch, Awkland) are essentially sh*tting into their rivers and harbours with every rainfall if sewage overflows into open waters. And because there's a lot more votes in the Urbs, they have the ability to jink rural types around this way and that, fuelled by the hairshirt notions of the New Puritans, and propelled by millenarian quasi-religious fervour.

As Foyle so rightly notes, sequestering the flood flows of the major rivers is the way to go: both the Rakaia and the Waimak will routinely carry flood flows 10-20 times the average (4-6000 cumec floods for the Rakaia, for example). The water races in the foothills have quietly tapped some minimal flows from dozens of streams for a century-and-a-half. We need more of this.....

I admire your spirit and your commitment to water quality improvement... "eventually" (as Guy puts it above).

We all resist overshoot, even when it stares us in the face. I think much of the population growth in Selwyn and Waimak had to do with the Christchurch EQ;

"Eventually" is a dangerous pipe dream when you've already exceeded the limits of nature. Flow is a huge issue given your catchment is over-allocated but perhaps even more important is the river's ability to sustain aquatic life. What I've read of the Selwyn suggests its MCI fell off the cliff in 2016 - in other words, it, like Lake Ellesmere entered the red (dead) zone. Yes, maybe "eventually" these waterbodies will again sustain life, but from everything I've read - the prediction for the area is that water quality is forecast to continue to decline for some time - and "eventually" it will get better.

With all that debt that Guy refers to - I'm skeptical.

Kate you may be skeptical, but as you don't live there, it's really not your concern.

Correct. But that's a very anthropocentric view. I can however feel guilty and disheartened for nature lost, no matter where in the world it is lost. It's just a different worldview, and all worldviews are valid.

My view is formed as someone who farms in a catchment that has had a sustained and agenda driven campaign against it. The agendas are not just the enviro lobby groups but also govt depts and politicians. I have seen the mental health toll of community members that sustained campaigns, of only negativity, hashad and is still having. Especially when efforts carried out by the community and for which monitored trends, show are improving, are ignored. It is the younger members (<40) that can be most affected. Sophiek referred to 'hate' of farmers and it was dismissed by Stuart. If dairy farmers were an ethnic group they may well have cause to claim human rights abuses against them. Until you have walked in my shoes.......
Feelings are real to the person feeling them. It is what people do with those feelings that matter. Worldviews are fine so long as they aren't harming others.

Yes, the mental stress is not good, not good at all - and hopefully this government's increased attention in that regard will improve those issues and outcomes. And, the work Mark Patterson and Damien O'Connor are doing regarding financial mediation requirements are also really good;

But human rights abuses? I don't think so. There is an emerging trend in environmental law called The Rights of Nature. We have two resources that have already gained personhood in these recent Acts;

I suspect this will be expanded over time - hence it is a worldview or environmental ethic that is really worth reading up on as it is likely the next step in EM.

The Rights of Nature? But nature is just a huge matrix of organisms that exploit niches. And humans have become hugely adept at exploiting and inhabiting niches from pole to pole. If humans step back, then some other organism(s) will simply exploit and inhabit those niches and with no thought on how that may play out (arrogant view on how other organisms 'think' right there)
It's a lovely idea but reality is humans or sub-populations of humans will always be looking to exploit and inhabit in an ongoing quest for survival of their own species. Personally I feel saddened that even in my short life I have been able to actually observe the degradation in parts of NZ. But I sleep a bit easier at night when I try to be realistic about where it's all going.

Only an abusee knows the abuse they have received, so I do not expect you to understand the concept. ;-)

I am aware of The Rights of Nature trend.

It is going to be interesting to see just where environmental regulation does go and what, if any, consequence it has for social stability in NZ. It is about peoples expectations. Both Invercargill City and Queenstown Lakes District Council sought long term continuance of their consents to pollute fresh water for another 35years. They both expected to be granted the licence to degrade waterways. Invercargill City's consent was submitted against by both Fish and Game and Federated Farmers, among others. The Panel of commissioners eventually granted a 15year consent with strict conditions. It will be interesting to see what decision is made in case of QLDC. The fact that QLDC requested such a long continuance/renewal period shows just how far out of touch they are with the real world. Or perhaps it is just straight out arrogance.

Yes, read up on the QLDC 35 year extension request. They suggest it isn't a capacity or treatment plant inadequacy issue, but rather unforeseen blockages causing overflow events. Well that's an education issue then, so why would they need a consent - the RMA deals with environmental accidents in ways other than consenting for them. Very suspicious.

I agree with the comments about the negative effects of this campaign against dairy farming. I had an incident told to me by a family whose 10 year old child was in a class where their teacher in a Canterbury rural school picked on and humiliated the child in front of the whole class by complaining that dairy farmers were ruining the environment and then pointing out that that child's parents managed a dairy farm and were part of the problem. In fact the dairy farm in question was a Graded A in its farm environment plan audit, but never mind the teacher was not interested in knowing this having classified all dairy farmers into one group much like a racist would make all Maori responsible for the problems of some of that group. I have also been told about another similar bullying incident to this.

Would it be acceptable for a teacher to single out the child of a single mother or a child whose father had been in prison and rant about how socially undesirable these people are and make the child someone responsible for their parents actions in front of 30 other children who will take on this attitude and tease them after class? I think that teacher would find themselves facing disciplinary action in those scenarios because this kind of behaviour is bullying and models for children how to engage in bullying behaviour when schools have a responsibility to protect children.

That is what I mean about the anti farming rhetoric being socially divisive and harmful. These are a number of problems in society - eg unaffordable house prices, dsyfunctional families with high levels of crime and child abuse and we need to focus on solutions and supporting people to make changes to achieve anything positive.

In 2009 I was catching a feed of flounder from Lake Ellesmere any day of the week, so I'm a bit unsure why you think it is dead. It's a beautiful part of the country and downright tropical during the summer.

From the 2017 State of the Lake report, which also makes note of the drop in MCI, referred to you elsewhere, and potential reasons why:
Almost 50 fish species have been record from Te Waihora making it amongst the highest recorded fish diversity of any lake in New Zealand. This high number is in part to the occasional influx of nearly 30 marine species. The influx of both freshwater and marine species occurs when the lake is open to the sea and fishes migrate into and out of the lake. These migrations are essential for some species to complete their life cycle and to sustain the fishery in the lake. Both long fin and short fin eels begin and end their life cycle in the ocean. They enter the lake as juveniles (elvers) and after growing for 20-40 years in the lake they return to the ocean to spawn and die./i>
Over all water quality in tributary streams and groundwater have shown improvement in the last two years. The water quality index has indicated improvements at several sites. This may be a result of land management interventions in the catchment but with dry weather conditions, contaminants may not have been flushed into surface and groundwater systems. A longer monitoring period is required to see if the improving trends are long lasting. However low flows and warmer temperatures have seen a shift in aquatic invertebrate communities with 70% of sites indicating ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ invertebrate grades over the last two years.

Yes, and it's not encouraging.

The article on TV 1 also made no mention of the nutritional value of cows milk (packed with protein, calcium and vitamins) compared to the alternatives. With the exception of soy, alternative milks contain practically no nutrients.

On another evening, they played a segment on reducing the environmental impact of tourism with barely a mention of the carbon cost of flying.

Flying? International flights are simply not counted. Not by any country let alone NZ which has more tourists and longer flights than anywhere else. Add them in then NZ has to find another 5% of its FF emissions which is fairly tricky and expensive but probably doable however it would mean halting tourism advertising and that means too much to the businessmen, politicians and bureaucrats involved.
Unless international travel (ships & aircraft) is included we can't take our govt's response to climate change seriously.

Soy milk is packed with estrogen and it's consumption should be made compulsory so we can win the fight against toxic masculinity. Cows are full of grass fed red meat which boosts testosterone which is just another reason to ban dairy and make the healthy switch to a soy based diet.

"But to do what Dr Joy suggests and turn back the clock and get rid of both irrigation and dairying is plainly ridiculous. It makes about as much sense as suggesting that we should all adopt riding bikes everywhere because cars are polluting the atmosphere".

Eh? The latter makes perfect sense.

And Dr Joy's advocating of ridding ourselves of dairying and irrigation, makes perfect sense too. To those who chose to side-swipe democracy in their quest for profit - tough. Every unsustainable activity ceases - it's part of the definition. The straw-man arguments - 9 (or 10) billion people by whenever, who need to be fed - don't change what is, or is not, maintainable. Other straw-man arguments don't wash either, Guy.

Ask the good folk of Sumer how irrigation worked out for them. But big-picture, the system which loaned the farmers the 'money' probably falls over and that will drive more change, faster, than any political action. Food will become much more local, very fast, and if not remunerated as currently understood, it will be held in higher regard than any other commodity.

PDK - your solutions would work for NZ. I'd get used to cycling and growing more veg and eating less meat. NZ can do it so long as we stop our population growing. However could Britain or Germany do it? And if it was done in India, China, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Eygpt, etc wouldn't it mean starvation? Probably leading to nuclear war?

...Dr Mike Joy has been raising concerns long before things got to this state - but those who could do something choose to let it run. A disingenuous article, reads like a tobacco lobbyist of years gone by.

My counter perspective is that this has been an excellent informative article. That does not mean that I necessarily agree with everything in it. But I don't think your comment "a disingenuous article, reads like a tobacco lobbyist of years gone by" advances the debate. Better to focus on the flaws in Guy's presentation as you see it. One key issue might be whether the ECAN limits are sufficient.

This Mike Joy? "Mike Joy is covered in blood. The man who will later rail against the silence of our rivers is presiding over the silence of the lambs. He's shooting thousands of them on an Australian sheep station. Day after day. Under a merciless sun. On the back of four years of drought and a dwindling market." He reminds me of an evangelical christian who 'finds' religion-usually after a traumatic/stressful event in their life. They have an agenda in which they see they are right and and non-believers need to change to their way of thinking.
Edit link added

Thanks. I miss the preview option we used to have when commenting.

The only way your solution works is for thousands of people to die. The alternative (i.e. keeping the status quo) is very likely to result in the same outcome. The difference is that with your solution there is a very tangible certainty of outcome that very directly affects US. With the alternative there is less certainty (the hope/illusion of technology shift etc) of that outcome and the greater impact will be for people who are yet to come (or those who are growing at present).
My point is if your solution is to let millions (or billions) of people to die, then you really have no solution.

Another "interesting addition to the story is a report spotted on TV1 the other night" on Seven Sharp - I think it was either Wed or Thurs night. They had a segment on the news from Sweden that has results from a 2.7 million people study that shows links between high nitrate levels and bowel cancer.
The Canterbury health officer is urging NZ research on the matter but I doubt we could manage such a large study. Mike Joy was on the show and pointed out that basically in the whole of Canterbury area only half the bores had nitrates at less than the level shown in the Danish study. He said he wouldn't be drinking any water from the area.

Heres the 7 Sharp article

Heres some reaction to the danish study

The 7 Sharp article highlighted that NZ has high bowel cancer levels relative to the world and rural levels are high relative to the national level. If you believe that Canterbury is going to sort this out by basically maintaining the status quo apart from fencing a few rivers well I have a bridge to sell you.

NZ - 100% pure Tui

The irony there is that the current high nitrate levels are from historic use, that is cropping. Changing to dairy could have been better if the stocking rates in particular had been kept lower with other mitigation added in, but that's not how things worked.

True - we've been addicted to nitrogen for many years - video is great;

NZ's high death rate from bowel cancer is because of our tardiness in getting an effective screening program underway.

As for the supposed higher rate in rural areas - perhaps those people are older, or have less access to health care, or eat a different diet. Association doesn't imply causality.

This is from an interesting BBC article on nitrates, pointing out that most nitrates in the diet are from eating vegetables, and that it probably requires other factors to make them harmful:

"But the relationship between dietary nitrates/nitrites and health is a lot more nuanced than merely saying “they’re bad for us”. For example, the high natural nitrate content of beetroot juice has been credited with lowering blood pressure and enhancing exercise performance. Nitrates are also the active ingredient in some medications for angina, a condition in which reduced blood flow causes chest pain.

So when most of the nitrates in our diets come from vegetables – and in turn encourage nitric oxide formation – they are probably good for us.

One nitric oxide expert has gone further, arguing that many of us are deficient in nitrates/nitrites and that they should be classified as essential nutrients that can help prevent conditions such as heart attacks and strokes."

Dietary nitrogen is not the issue at hand, that's completely unrelated, most of the atmosphere is nitrogen too.

Nitrogen reaction byproducts reaching waterways and affecting phytoplankton blooms is probably the bigger climate change risk here. The phytoplankton is responsible for the oxygen we breathe, trees only create a small fraction of it.

Sure, I was responding to someone making a link between nitrates in water and bowel cancer rates.

Not someone.
You are responding to a 2.5 million person scientific study in Denmark that makes that link which I would lend some credence to- actually.

A review of that Danish study appears to support what the Cancer Society comments were, in which they did not endorse Joy's comments...Because the study did not interview individuals, it could not evaluate individual-level risk factors that might influence endogenous nitrosation.

Anyway not to worry, this is probably the first shot in a battle Enviro lobby groups are launching against farming soon. Farmers in Southland are already aware that there are people in Southland out taking photos of winter crop feeding. Here's hoping the lobby groups do a better job than last time when they used photo(s) taken in Otago and claimed they were taken in Southland. ;-) Will be interesting to see what sort of reporting balance the media gives the campaign.

I live in Selwyn and I agree with Guy. We had Mike Joy and every media outlet here 2 years ago to complain about how the Selwyn River was dying. It is not dying and has a good flow and has had that for most of the past 2 years. Central Plains Water is actually a very good thing for our district as it will help shift farmers from using groundwater to using water from the Rakaia River of which there is ample water as well as creating a lot more income for NZ which is paying for the likes of pay raises for teachers, mental health services and police etc. They are also looking at a planned recharge project for the Selwyn River to use CPW water to boost river flows over the summer so it may have higher flows in summer than its historically had. All of the farms have new environmental requirements to reduce nitrogen leaching and other requirements. Secondly you cannot escape the fact that farming adds a lot to our economy - our district is the second wealthiest in NZ and we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in NZ. Decisions about how water is managed should be made by the local community and having activist groups like Greenpeace here telling us what to do is not welcomed. We are trying to balance better environmental management along with wanting to continue to be a prosperous community.

Decisions about how water is managed should be made by the local community and having activist groups like Greenpeace here telling us what to do is not welcomed. Well said Sophie. Unfortunately many on here feel it is their right to tell communities that they do not live in, how they should live, what they should accept etc. All the while being ignorant about what is really happening in those communities.

Seconded. All environments are local, and the Canterbury Plains have been through many centuries of vast change - affecting climate, sedimentation, rivers, surface water bodies and of course soils. A quick history:

  • Originally, forest from mountains to sea. Check the Forested Areas map in 'Tangata Whenua'...
  • Extensive 12-13 century burning of the forest cover, as the early Maori chased moas and other forest dwelling grocery items - inducing a much drier east coast climate over the ensuing centuries and leaving remnant bush only in foothills, valleys and isolated patches on the Plains proper.
  • Revegetation - low growth, tussock, spaniards, matagouri
  • Burning round #2 as the early Europeans cleared tussock and began to farm
  • Extensive sheep farms and some minor cropping, but limited by access to water until the race schemes of the 1870's onwards
  • Water races, fed from the Waimak, Kowai, Selwyn, and the foothill streams behind Windwhistle, for reliable stock water. This recharged aquifers as well as providing household water: the races eventually spanned fairly much the entire Plains excepting the dry stony Te Pirita corner. Farming extended to cropping on the deep silt loams where feasible.
  • The irrigation era - wells to 2-300m deep, and then the river-fed canal schemes of recent date. Uses expanded as well - seeds, more and different animals

To think that it is even possible to adjudge climate, river flows, optimal uses, and livelihoods, against such a background of continual change, is quite simply hubris.....some such changes (vegetation cover being a classic example) affect climate on a century scale.

The Rush to Judge is not assisted in terms of likely acceptance by the High and Mighty pronouncements from the We Know Best pulpits. There's more than a hint of Millenarian Fever about most of these, and like any other monomaniacal fixations, there's always the awful but (of course unacknowledged) possibility that despite the Perfection of their Vision, they are Quite Wrong.....

Sophie - they had full employment in Pripyat also beforeTSHTF. That doesn't make it right.

I find the author's justification for agricultural pollution that "they invested over $1e6" disingenuous, and devoid of thought.

Extension of broken logic like that suggests if you have the money, you have more right to pollute than someone who doesn't.

Also the divide is not only being stirred up by urban denizens, farmers are probably worse with the emotive rhetoric they often launch into.

There is more belligerence and resistance to this issue from rural communities than urban ones.

Exactly - anyone who lives in rural NZ knows that local money talks and everyone else gets shouted down.

Guy Trafford says turning back the clock is stupid. Actually he is making an ill informed leap of judgement, and a conclusion that is just arrogant.
It only took 30 years of so to get Canterbury water into the dangerous state is now. So not so hard to change for the better in say 50 years.
Whats the alternative Guy sees. Ten thousand years of Canterbury's future, where the very few inhabitants drink only imported water, and also have to shower in imported water after work. Thats the alternative that is stupid.

Did anyone watch country calendar lastnight?
The farming couple on there were saying that they only let cattle eat about one third of the grass and then rotate them to another field. No need to use fertiliser for fast regrowth.
Seems like a step in the right direction.

Yes. Never miss Country Calendar, but they always pick the best of the best examples to film... it's nostalgic as well as interesting.

What the author conveniently leaves out is the fact that dairy farming has only been a large scale activity on the Cannterbury Plains in the last 20 years. Along with recent rapid expansion of dairying came unprecedented exploitation of ground water resulting in signficantly lowering of ground water aquifers, degradation of the waterways and groundwater contamination.

In order to create the dairy farms, there was large scale clearances of plains forests and shelterbelts networks. In addition, to increase water flows, and to compensate for over-exploitation of plains groundwater, forestry in the foothills has now become a restricted use, it is virtually banned now, and there are moves to remove remaining foothills plantations to increase water supply. All of these activities have increased environmental degadation and increased risks of further environmental degadation in the future.

As an amateur forestry historian, I would remind people that the Balmoral and Eyrewell State Plantations, the Selwyn Plantation Board forests and traditional shelterbelt systems were developed to counter the effects of wind erosion, something that Canterbury plains are very prone to. Furthermore, many of the plantations in the foothills were planted to counter large scale soil erosion that plagued the Province after the original natural forest was removed. We seem to be repeating the same mistakes as our forefathers with this latest obsession with dairy farming.