Protecting our precious water resources

A clean and green country is one of New Zealand’s biggest marketing tools. Farming, is one of New Zealand’s largest industries, with dairy being the biggest contributor to New Zealand’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). On occasions the concept of a clean green New Zealand, and dairy farming do not sit harmoniously with one another. In fact many would say they are in direct conflict.

Last week Lauran Bergin eluded to the fact that water is one of New Zealand’s most precious resource, and that some farmers are taking more than their permitted quota under the Resource Management Act (RMA) and regional bylaws. To add to this, it is no secret that farmers have come under criticism for pollution of New Zealand’s waterways. So why should they not be named and shamed as Environment Canterbury (ECan) has proposed by publishing abatement and infringement notices?

Not all farmers are ‘pillages and polluters’, yet they will, and are being tainted by the same brush. Naming and shaming those that do not comply with the current framework is a practical way to deter other farmers from breaching the law, and it will also mean for the farmers following the law and so protecting that precious resource, can see that farmers who are not doing so are paying a price for their unlawful actions.

If the small number of non-compliant farmers stop taking more than they are entitled too, then our clean and green image will be sustained and our biggest tourism marketing tool maintained. As it is, there are a number of waterways around New Zealand where it is not safe to collect Kai Moana or swim, due to pollution.

A prudent approach would be to bring in some practical incentives and assistance for farmers who feel they need to take more than their current quota of water, or to pollute. Having a framework in place that does not offer practical solutions is clearly not enough. As dairy is one of the biggest contributors to our GDP, more needs to be done within the bounds of the law to allow them to farm productively and to sustain the environment and so retain New Zealand’s unique image.

Publicising those that breach water regulations would be a step in the right direction to deter farmers and boost our clean and green image.

To offset the large quantities of water, farmers should have to give back to the waterways in some way. There are a lot of positive water catchment schemes being setup and run by likeminded farmers, around New Zealand, such as the Arorere River Project in Tasman and the Pomahaka Catchment Project in Otago. These should be made compulsory for all high water users, alongside naming and shaming non-compliant farmers. If Regional Councils do not find ways to incentivise all farmers to respect our waterways, we can expect to see more diverted streams and drastic illegal action by farmers to get more precious water.

The content of this document is necessarily general and readers should seek specific advice on particular matters and not rely solely on this document. 

If you would like more information on any of the topics in this document, please contact your usual Auld Brewer Mazengarb & McEwen adviser. 

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