Farming organisations, self-interest irrigation lobbyists, plus the Minister of Primary Industries are being irresponsible towards the crisis of New Zealand’s depleted and degraded rivers and streams says a national trout fishing advocacy.
President of the NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers David Haynes was reacting to a call by Irrigation NZ’s CEO Andrew Curtis over the experimental Hinds/Hekeao Managed Aquifer Recharge project that would deplete the Rangitata River. He also referred to another call by Hawkes Bay Federated Farmers president Will Foley over the controversial Hawkes Bay Ruataniwha scheme for the Tukituki River in which Foley commented that since 196 unidentified farmers had signed up to the currently unapproved scheme, that it was financially viable and must immediately proceed.
“The Hawkes Bay Federated Farmers call ignores that the only people so far identified as contributing to the dam’s costs are the public, i.e. taxpayers and ratepayers.”
David Haynes said the contribution the public would make was tantamount to a giant subsidy for private profit while the public’s river, already under severe environmental stress, would be sacrificed. Federated Farmers claim that the Tukituki catchment area would “enjoy improved environmental outcomes” was that of a “cock-eyed optimist” contradicting all known science about the impact of dams.
David Haynes also singled out the Minister of Primary Industries Nathan Guy who said it was time the public stopped blaming agriculture for the degraded state of rivers. “Why would the public illogically do that when it’s well documented that intensive agriculture is a major cause of degradation of the public’s waterways?”
He said it was time for government ministers to realise they were fundamentally public servants meant to be serving the general public interest of not only today’s generation but future generations. “How will Messrs Curtis, Foley and Guy explain to their children and grandchildren that they were party to the degradation of rivers that now were unswimmable?”
All New Zealanders, town and country, from politicians to farmers needed to take collective responsibility to have a “land and water ethic” to restore waterways. Many farmers were responsible and practised a sense of stewardship but a significant number failed to do so. Horizons Regional Council, covering southern Hawkes Bay, Manawatu, Rangitikei and other rural areas recently revealed that of 482 farms with Sustainable Land Use Plans, exactly half had done nothing to fulfil obligations or had made less than 20 percent of planned progress. The plans, designed to limit the effects of large-scale hill erosion and prevent silt run-off and deposition in rivers, were free to farmers, but cost council ratepayers between $12,0009and $18,000 each to conduct but were voluntary.
David Haynes said the abdication of environmental responsibility by Federated Farmers was graphically illustrated by national Federated Farmers president William Rolleston who claimed on National Radio “we do actually have very clean rivers in New Zealand – there is no doubt.”
“Rolleston’s bizarre claim flew in the face of concerns by the Parliamentary commissioner for the Environment and all the published studies by independent scientists. It’s apparent the deep concerns held by the public over degraded rivers, fails to even rate as an issue for NZ’s agribusiness spokesmen.”
David Haynes said the science underpinning the truly degraded state of the public’s waterways had been very clear for a long time, pin-pointing that agricultural intensification particularly monocultures of mega-sized corporate dairy farms, was usually the major cause.
A ground-breaking report just published by the respected Cawthron Institute and NIWA proved conclusively that the over-allocation of water extracted for intensive agriculture, was directly affecting the ecosystem of public rivers, including vital macro-invertebrate populations that were food sources for native fish and the public’s trout and salmon stocks.
“Denials about the deplorable state of many rivers both in quantity of flow and quality, by agri-business representatives is frustrating since it’s selfish, self-serving and short-sighted.”
David Haynes said fish health was tantamount to the “canary in the coal mine. “Not only are many lowland rivers rated as unfit for swimming but once favoured swimming and fishing rivers, were dry riverbeds, mute testimony to the degradation and at times total destruction. Anglers know because they’re out there, seeing diminished fish size and numbers, and essentially acting as environmental watchdogs for the public” he said.