All ratepayers should foot the bill for keeping stock out of waterways, says a dairy farmer who until recently leased streamside land from Whangarei District Council.
Ruatangata dairy farmer Neville Thorne said he dropped his lease on a strip amounting to about 5ha rather than pay for fencing, and he knows of other farmers who will do the same.
Mr Thorne said the council's threat to withdraw leases on land held by about 20 farmers unless they complied with the fencing demand amounted to "more bloody bullying".
But Phil Halse, Hikurangi Swamp Working Party chairman and a council representative on the group designed to find consensus on land-use and waterways issues, said farmers were in business and suburban residents or other ratepayers should not have to pay for those business costs.
"It would be disappointing if farmers refused to fence but if we don't get compliance we will withdraw those leases - it's as simple as that," Mr Halse said.
The Whangarei District lease-holders have until March 1 to fence off the waterways, and dairy giant Fonterra has also toughened up over water quality protection, telling suppliers to fence it or lose their contracts.
Mr Thorne said Fonterra's policy to drop suppliers who don't fence off waterways did not apply to the council land he had leased for about 10 years because he ran dry stock on it.
He also called for better definition of a "stream", which Fonterra's Clean Streams Accord described as "deeper than a red band gumboot, wider than a stride and flowing permanently".
Water quality and the effect of run-off, especially in the flood-controlled Hikurangi Swamp Scheme, was a community issue which everyone, not just farmers, should pay for, Mr Thorne said.
The farmers have an ally in someone who has highlighted the devastation caused by riverbank grazing. Campaigner Millan Ruka said the fencing requirement for council-leases applied to over 60km of Wairua River and Hikurangi Swamp levies and banks.
"Now that there is a commitment from the council it is time to work on a plan to assist the farmers as it has to be financially viable for them to be compliant," Mr Ruka said. "There is no gain to the community if they surrender their leases."
Fonterra's stipulation was welcome although the council was targeting all stock, not just dairy, Mr Halse said.