By Conor English, CEO, Federated Farmers of New Zealand
Yogi Berra, an American baseball coach, famously said "the future ain’t what it used to be". When it comes to water in New Zealand, he’s right. Right now everything to do with water is at play. The laws and rules around water’s ownership, allocation, management, quality and its storage are all under review. What happens over the next few months will determine the next 100 years. Its complex and its important that we get it right.
There is huge risk here not only for the farming community, but all New Zealanders.
On top of that we have local government reform looking to change the focus and form of councils. We have already seen changes in Auckland and ECAN. $435 million has been allocated to water storage infrastructure and the RMA is about to undergo further amendments.
The National Policy Statement (NPS) on fresh water management was passed last year. The Land and Water Forum is seeking to interpret that to inform further law change. In the regions, Horizions, Otago and ECan have all produced plan changes seeking to implement the NPS. Despite best efforts, it could be said that none of them have got it right. Yes it is complex, but diffuse discharges are not the same as point source discharges and Overseer is not a water meter.
Federated Farmers is involved in all of this change. It matters enormously.
Water quality should be about water quality. As the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment points out this is not just N, not just dairy farming. It is about rural and urban discharges. Its about four key elements - Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Sediment, and e-coli. And also heavy metals from city run-off for example. We need good data and excellent, full and transparent information on all aspects of water quality to inform policy and regulation. It is very questionable if we currently have this.
Farmers are custodians of the land and water and harvest it for the benefit of today’s and future generations. They want to leave it better than they found it. Farming does have an impact. Farmers have spent hundreds of millions of dollars putting in effluent systems, excluding stock from waterways, measuring fertilizer, and investing in more efficient irrigation.
That investment has allowed growth in exports, which has earned money that pays the bills for the hospitals, schools and other services. It’s provided jobs. And it’s improved the environment. It is critical that water quality measures include all those whose discharge into the river including places like Palmerston North City.
There is no free lunch. When it comes to water, it is critical that as a society we get the balance right and do not overreact and throw the baby out with the bathwater. The future may not be what it used to be, but we need to be making informed decisions, especially on water quality, so that we can have profitable and sustainable farming for the benefit of all New Zealand.
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