New freshwater direction sacrifices future for short term profit

Takaka River. Dave Allen/NIWA

Better Future’s Forum founder Dr Mike Joy has written a hard-hitting piece for The Conservation. Upshot: he is dismayed that the government has pulled back from placing meaningful nutrient limits on farming operations, despite expert advice to do so. Here is an excerpt from his article. Link to full article below.

New Zealand’s government has been praised for listening to health experts in its pandemic response, but when it comes to dealing with pollution of the country’s waterways, scientific advice seems less important.

Today, the government released a long-awaited NZ$700 million package to address freshwater pollution. The new rules include higher standards around cleanliness of swimming spots, set controls for some farming practices and how much synthetic fertiliser is used, and require mandatory and enforceable farm environment plans.

But the package is flawed. It does not include any measurable limits on key nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorus) and the rules’ implementation is left to regional authorities. Over the 30 years they have been managing the environment, the health of lakes and rivers has continued to decline.

For full disclosure, I was part of the 18-person science technical advisory group that made the recommendations. Despite more than a year of consultation and evidence-based science, the government has deferred or ignored our advice on introducing measurable limits on nitrogen and phosphorus.

The proposed nutrient limits were key to achieving real change, and far from being extreme, would have brought New Zealand into line with the rest of the world. For example, in China, the limit for nitrogen in rivers is 1 milligram per litre – the same limit as our technical advisory group recommended. In New Zealand, 85% of waterways in pasture catchments (which make up half of the country’s waterways, if measured by length) now exceed nitrate limit guidelines.

The other main policy the expert panels pushed for was a cap on the use of nitrogen fertiliser. This was indeed part of the announcement, which is a positive and important step forward. But the cap is set at 190kg per hectare per year, which is too high. This is like telling someone they should reduce smoking from three to two and a half packets a day to be healthier.

Instead, Minister for the Environment David Parker decided to postpone this discussion by another year – meaning New Zealand will continue to lag other nations in having clear, enforceable nutrient limits.

This delay will inevitably result in a continued decline of water quality, with a corresponding decline in a suite of ecological, culturalsocial and economic values a healthy environment could support.

Read full article on The Conversation

One thought on “New freshwater direction sacrifices future for short term profit

  1. Big ups Mike, great piece. I would have hoped that the cancer piece might have raised a few more concerns for the GOVT. Sometimes I feel like my best option is to wait patiently for Fonterra to implode while supporting regen-Ag people in the meantime – anyone with a biological understanding of soils is going to be very popular in years to come.

    Liked by 1 person

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