Comment: Whether you're urban or rural - it is important to realise "swimmable rivers" come with a price tag, writes President of Federated Farmers Otago, Simon Davies.

Having spent most of the last three weeks dissecting, attending meetings and worrying about the Government's proposed freshwater policy package and how it is likely to affect pastoral farming I went on holiday with the family.

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To be fair, the family went on holiday and left me behind while I did the tailing (earmarking, castrating and inoculating) of my lambs.

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Once tailing was finished I joined them in Dunedin for a few days.

While I was there I got to thinking about the freshwater policies again, but with an urban bent.

Given I do not have the same intimate knowledge of urban freshwater as I do of rural freshwater, there is definitely more hypothesis involved in this discussion.

As I watched for the third time a lady bring her dog down to the neighbouring unoccupied section so it could go to the toilet, I thought about where dog poo ends up. It eventually flows down into the stormwater system.

Stormwater, which will also contain bird poo (less commonly known as a direct source of e. coli), wash off the street (highly contaminated with rubber, petroleum-based contaminates and heavy metals), litter, cigarette butts and biological waste, will flow through the pipe network to be finally discharged into the nearest large freshwater body.

In many towns and cities around New Zealand, in times of high rainfall, stormwater infiltration overwhelms sewerage systems, leading to human effluent also ending up in urban streams, rivers, harbours and beaches.

Under the new freshwater policies all this water will have to be treated to meet the new National Policy Statement and National Environmental Standards.

I wonder if urban ratepayers have any idea how much this will cost them?

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President of Federated Farmers Otago, Simon Davies. Photo / Supplied
President of Federated Farmers Otago, Simon Davies. Photo / Supplied

To be fair, district and city councils are aware of this issue, and I believe are grappling with the significant implications. But I am not sure they yet to realise the full potential costs of these new standards, and thus be in a position to tell their ratepayers what's coming at them.

Probably – like Federated Farmers – the councils' policy experts are frantically trying to analyse the Resource Management Act and cost implications of the proposed new standards in time to make informed submissions before the ridiculously tight 31 October submission deadline.

As some sectors of society demand "swimmable rivers" (year round, even though temperatures mean most folk only take a dip in summer), it is important to realise that it comes with a price tag.

As a farmer I can assess how much these policies are going to cost my farming business.

I'm not sure urban residents can say the same.

Through your rates you will have to cough up for multi-million dollar upgrades of 'three water' (drinking water, stormwater and sewerage) systems and treatment plants within your districts. Are you happy for a few to dictate to all of us what we must have, irrespective of the costs?

Yes, town and country needs to take more action on water quality where it's degrading. But we should target catchment hot-spots, not usher in costly blanket rules which in some areas will add little or nothing to environmental values.

Having the "Rolls Royce" of something is great, but not at the cost of everything else.

It is one thing to have aspirational targets, but they need to be tempered with what is affordable and achievable.

When you see your council rates running at double or even triple inflation, it will be too late to ask the hard questions because the legislation will be passed.