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Environmental Groups Single Out Dairy Farmers And Regional Councils Over Dirty Streams    Chris Mole - Associate Editor

NZ’s dairy industry is under fire again for polluting rivers and streams, after a new study showing almost 95% of the country’s lowland waterways have unacceptably high levels
of faecal bacteria. Environmental groups are pointing the finger at dairy farmers as the chief culprits. And the Ecologic Foundation goes further, accusing Regional Councils of being accomplices in the crime, by being too soft on farmers’ polluting activities.

Ecologic Foundation Executive Director Guy Salmon believes a Clean Streams Accord signed last year by diary giant Fonterra, with MAF, the Ministry for the Environment and local Govt, committing farmers to fence off 90% of their streams from stock by 2012, goes nowhere near far enough towards tackling the problem.

“At the current rate of progress, the goal of restoring NZ’s waterways to a fishable and swimmable standard remains hundreds of years away. It’s high time for a sense of urgency on these issues.”

Salmon claims most regional councils are reluctant to tackle pollution caused by agriculture, perhaps because they feel it’s in the too hard basket. Thus, the dairy industry is “getting off scot-free. If it’s a big multinational, or an urban business, (councils) will crack down on them, but they seem reluctant to recognise the impact of farmers.”

Salmon adds this means waterways continue to be polluted, not just by faecal bacteria but also by nutrients such as phosphates and nitrates, leaching off farms into waterways, which can’t be stopped by fences. Fish and Game Council Director Bryce Johnson claims the filthy state of NZ streams makes a mockery of the country’s “100% pure” marketing campaign overseas.

Johnson says the reality is NZ is only “50% pure” and he agrees regional councils must shoulder much of the blame, along with the Ministry for the Environment, for being too soft on “dirty dairying.” Johnson says “there’s no problem with the range of tools within the Resource Management Act, the problem is inadequate implementation by Central and Local Government.”

Fonterra Technical Manager Shane Lodge says the company is acutely aware of dairying’s contribution to water pollution and the industry is taking several environmental initiatives, on top of the Clean Streams Accord, funded by a levy of 3.4c/kg of milk solids per farmer.
This includes research by Lincoln University on Fonterra’s behalf to help reduce water pollution. Lodge stresses other intensive farming activities are contributing to water pollution.

The Auckland Regional Council has just signed an agreement with Fonterra including voluntary targets for dairy farmers to fence off waterways from stock and prevent nutrients getting into rivers and streams. ARC Chairman Gwen Bull says the agreement “shows a real commitment” by the dairy industry to protect the environment.

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