Sunday, 29 May 2016

We are wrecking our rivers

I've been a trout fisherman scouring the nations waterways since childhood. Over the decades I have seen the deterioration of our rivers, streams, and lakes. There are increasing numbers of cattle in our streams and I now increasingly have to to pick my way across grossly polluted stream edges-- bogs full of urine & faeces. The water itself is often green with weeds, and algal mats darken the stream beds. Some rivers, particularly in the South Island have been abstracted to a trickle in summer. Some water is undrinkable.
All this has coincided with the intensification of farming, and latterly to conversions of dry country to irrigated dairying .
As a kid, like all NZers of that time, I used to swim in any river, stream or lake. Now increasingly, we are told of the high proportion of these waterways are unsafe, and there are health risks. The current aims for water quality are to be safe for paddling & boating only.
We have to change this --for our health, for our recreation and for our economy. Our clean green image is suffering. Our economy must suffer too as we depend so much on agriculture and tourism--both very sensitive to the cleanliness of our environment.
We need strong regulation to protect our water standards, then real enforcement measures to put these into effect. We can raise money from charging farmers for industrial irrigation water , and bottling tom fund schemes to help farmers fence-off and plant around our waterways--this will reduce the ability for animals to overwhelm the ability of the ground to absorb nutrients and pathogens. Planting trees will also help reduce sediment loss to our fresh water from erosion.
Here is a letter to the Otago Daily Times I had published in February 2016--

Dear Editor,

Your photo of a cow fouling a pristine river ( ODT, 28 January) graphically highlights the increasing pollution of our national waterways by cattle. I and my fellow fishers see the widespread effects of unrestrained cattle compressing and pugging waterway edges into excreta-soaked bogs. Mr Hunt of Federated Farmers Otago makes the point that intensive dairy farming is different, but says “cows walking through waterways in the Matukituki Valley is a legitimate farming operation”.

Dairying clearly needs more restrictions. But high country beef farmers should not be allowed to pollute without restriction either. They need more monitoring, and given their private profits should bear most financial responsibility for fencing off their waterways. But, given the difficulties of fencing on their terrain, should they not be given some financial incentives from local or central government? I’d approve of my tax money subsidising our precious environment in this way. ( 148 words)

 Yours sincerely etc

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