Huge turnouts to meetings called to discuss the Government's Essential Freshwater proposals have caught the Ministry for the Environment on the hop. An estimated 150 farmers had to wait outside in the cold because the venue at Winton on September 12 couldn't accommodate them all. The day before, in Ashburton, 350-400 farmers turned up.
It shouldn't have been a surprise. Some parts of the proposals could be workable, with some tweaks, but other fundamental aspects are onerous, unjustified, even reckless.
Despite what Environment Minister David Parker says, if enacted they will send some farmers broke, or at the least force the sale of productive dairy and sheep and beef land for the planting of pine forests.
Don't just take our word for it. Local Government NZ has also said the economic consequences will be dire. As one example from their report, up to a third of the Waikato-Waipa catchment (which is about half of the Waikato region), currently in livestock (sheep, cattle, deer and horses), would be replaced by pine trees. LGNZ's modelled cost estimates are $100 million, or an 11 per cent loss of total profits derived from this land use change. That's just one catchment.
There's no crisis. Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA) 2008-2017 national water quality data show that about two-thirds of monitored sites are stable or improving in terms of water quality. Three times as many sites are improving in pastoral areas in terms of total phosphorus than are declining.
Farmers are not for a second saying the work is done. But the Government is wielding a sledgehammer when a scalpel is what's needed. Target the hotspots, and pressure (and support) those regional councils that still haven't got suitable regulations and discharge limits in place. To insist that by 2025 all the plans that communities have worked diligently on are redone, at a cost of millions and millions of dollars to ratepayers, will just suck the momentum out of the good work that farmers, councils and others are already doing.
The Government's proposals ignore the fact that the key drivers of water quality vary from catchment to catchment. In some it is sediment, others E. coli or one of the other containments. In some it's a combination, and in some, none. The ban on land use development, and that's what it is, is a crude and blunt one-size-fits-all approach.
Intensification restrictions are needed in some catchments, and they're coming into force. Blanket national rules risk stranding a whole generation of young farmers in a time warp.