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Parliamentary Commissioner for Environment releases report on water quality in NZ; Solutions to follow

Parliamentary Commissioner for Environment releases report on water quality in NZ; Solutions to follow

Policy makers and interest groups will be able to have much more informed discussion on water quality in New Zealand without so much finger pointing, following the release of a report on the science behind water quality, the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment says.

Commissioner Jan Wright today released Water quality in New Zealand: Understanding the science, saying there was a lot of heat, and not much light around the subject of New Zealand's water bodies and pollution.

Wright said while this report did not focus on solutions, further work being done by the Commission this year would touch upon ways to help improve water quality in New Zealand.

"The aim of this report is to provide a guide to water quality science covering those aspects which are most useful for the many New Zealanders who are engaged in, and concerned about, various aspects of this high profile environmental issue. Water quality science is indeed complicated, much is unknown, and the devil often really is in the detail," Wright said.

"There is effectively no limit to the different aspects of water quality that could be covered, so this report is not intended as a complete reference on the subject. Its scope is confined to fresh water – in rivers and streams, lakes, wetlands, estuaries, and aquifers – and to the three main water pollutants of greatest concern in New Zealand. These three are pathogens, sediment, and nutrients," she said.

"Pathogens are invisible microbes that cause disease and obviously deserve being labelled pollutants. But sediment and nutrients are only water pollutants by virtue of being in the wrong place. They belong on the land, not in water.

"Too much soil and rock washed off land become destructive sediment in water. Nutrients, specifically phosphorus and nitrogen, should also stay on the land helping plants grow there rather than in water. We want fertile land not fertile water," she said.

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15 Comments

Excellent.  Off to download and have a read.

If you drive south after arriving at Auckland airport via Hape drive just over the bridge you are often faced with cows standing in the margin of the estuary defecating directly into the waterway. It is the most visible and viewed example of agricultural pollution so easily mitigated, in full view of one time visitors and kiwis alike. Terrible first impression and an indicator of conditions on a grand scale in rural NZ. I'm a part time farmer myself, understand the financial pressures and prevailing attitudes of the industry. I am sorry to admit that nothing will change in any meaningful way without legislation. 
 
We have got a lot smarter in our application of synthetic inputs but not out of any altruistic sentiment, only  bottom line protection due to the high cost of what amounts to wasted inputs. Nitrogen capture by riparian planting is effective, aesthetically pleasing and beneficial to the ecology of terrestrial and aquatic systems. We know this as fact. Clearly this is not incentive enough. i have yet to meet a contemporary without gorse in his/her pockets! 
 
I think we missed a trick when agriculture was left out of the carbon emissions trading scheme. Offset methane emission with a cost and carbon and nitrogen capture. Now thats incentive. Nitrogen capture could be calculated as equivalent to carbon capture, No?
 
A holistic approach to production and ecology is the only fair estimate of the aggregate impact on our environment as a whole of one industry versus another. Focusing on one variable, namely emissions creates distortion and unfair advantage between industries and seperate operations while failing the regulations intended purpose of long term sustainable practice. A lose lose.
 

mist42nz, your conjecture is incorrect. Not a lifestyler, just not a full timer any more. And I have farmed primarily in other districts, dairy and beef over the years. Your  knee jerk opinion is typical of our industry. Riparian planting is proven to reduce nitrogen/phosphorus contamination from runoff. Yes, it takes effort to establish plantings, usually two releases after the planting clearance over 3 years(spring growth)before the plants themselves provide the weed control through shading, provided you have used the right species. Namely flax, manuka, kanuka, pittosporum, hebes, and cabbage tree. Throw in the odd kahikatea and kauri for good luck! 
 
Nothing errodes banks and causes gravel buildup like stock with access to streams!? 
 
As for stagnant water/flow issues, not an issue if, as above the correct plants are used.
Don't plant willows!
 
The shade and shelter provided for neighbouring paddocks make for happier healthier stock, increasing yield, a win win! 
 

Bipolar New Zealanders, the best way for dealing with cow effluent is capturing it at the source.  Yet no way is indoor farming allowed!  It would ensure even application over a larger area, as well as providing the opportunity for methane capture.  A far easier, effective way to reduce methane would be to drain all the swamps and wetlands, which are a far greater producer of said greenhouse gas.  Despite the fact that grass absorbes CO2 from the air, and a fraction of that goes back as cow farts, and the rest as people farts.
 
Lets not forget that the majority of cow poo's goes back onto the pasture and is utilised by grass, microbes and insects, whereas far more potent nutrients are pumped out to sea in the form human poo's.  Though I suspect the mere thought of internalising our own existence, by utilising our own wastes to grow more food would be another uncrossable line for many.

skudiv - Usually appreciate your point of view but this is the dumbest thing i've heard in a long time.

It aint stupid its just unconventional, your statement on the other hand dogma...

archaeo - So you think draining our few remaining wetlands so we can farm more cows will improve our water quality???
 

An excellent read that brings out the complexity of the issues and how one global law won't fix everything.

Where did you get a global law from? and how it wont fix everything?
 
 regards

"Wright said while this report did not focus on solutions, further work being done by the Commission this year would touch upon ways to help improve water quality in New Zealand."....I'm sure there will be plenty of further work...we wouldn't want a govt dept running out of work.

100% PURE? Not even close!

Hahaha, get rid of all the people, leave the place alone for a few thousand years then I suppose that would be 100% pure? 

Two years ago I boated from Karapiro dam wall to Port Waikato, down the Waikato river, filming as I went. "clean streams" what a joke, this river is little better than an open sewer. When will the District Councils truly apply the powers they have at their disposal to bring to account environmental vandalism?

Are you serious. Hamilton poured raw sewage into the Waikato last year to no interest from the gardians of the river.
 

As usual, the main problem is that too many agencies/ people are responibile. This leads to obvious low-hanging fruit not being dealt with, as Leadbelly and others point out.
Who is the person in NZ tasked with sorting out the obvious, fixable stuff?  This is a public relations fiasco, quite apart from being an environmental disaster.  We can spend a ton of money and stop the traffic for a Rugby World Cup. .. Politicians come out and tell us this is essential?  That a poorly resourced RWC will see our overseas reputation suffer?
 Bugger the long term, just get the easy stuff done.