The future of Manawatu’s waterways is at stake and regional council candidates will be the ones faced with making tough decisions about what to do next.
Court action taken against Horizons over alleged failings to enforce its One Plan – the document designed to reduce pollution in rivers and streams – highlights the importance of the issue.
The action, led by Fish and Game and the Environmental Defence Society, accuses the council of “grandparenting” consents by not enforcing the amount of nitrogen a farm can put into streams and rivers.
Nitrogen, from cow urine and faeces, and fertiliser are “overwhelmingly” the main cause of water quality degradation in New Zealand, according to Niwa.
Stuff asked Horizons candidates if they thought the One Plan was doing enough.
Paul Rieger said it was all very well for environmental purists to demand instant gratification, while at the same time wasting hundreds of thousands of rate and taxpayer dollars that could be better applied to working on solutions.
Everybody, including all councillors, wanted the process sped up, but costs were large and the question of affordability had to be dealt with in a balanced way.
“Horizons must rigorously monitor and collaborate with consent holders in a manner that is consistent with achieving the goals that are set out in the One Plan.”
Rachel Keedwell said the plan had not been implemented as intended and an opportunity to make bigger environmental gains was lost.
“I am the only councillor that has not supported this approach to implementation and I am extremely disappointed that it will take the expense of a legal challenge to make Horizons properly assess whether they are implementing the plan as intended.”
Pat Kelly said he was committed to the plan being strictly implemented to cope with increasing water demand and the increasing levels of nitrate.
“In my opinion the implementation of the One Plan is the council’s best strategy in setting regulations to sustain the quality of water and to protect the environment.”
Ralph Pugmire said the plan was based on what the environment could cope with.
“Implementation has been more pragmatic based on what farmers can cope with.
“If we want increased biodiversity in our rivers, if ‘often swimmable’ is not enough, we have to gradually move the environmental costs of intensive land use back into the equation.”
John Barrow said that this challenge came during the election period suggested “a very cynical attempt to subvert democracy”.
“The current council approach is legal, achieving the desired results and, critically, has the approval of the democratically elected representatives of our districts and region.”
Andrew Day said there were genuine concerns following earlier court rulings, however, the way the council has gone about addressing those was unsatisfactory.
Day said too many councillors had pecuniary interests or conflicts of interest.
“There have been too many people around the decision-making table with too much personal interest in the decisions made. We need transparency in both resource use and governance.”
Lorraine Stephenson supported the actions of the council, but said there was still opportunity to enforce strong conditions.
Most farmers were well advanced in using environmentally-sustainable practices, she said.
“It will never be enough for those who are simply opposed to dairy farming full stop. How farmers react to such extremist thinking will be an on-going challenge.”
Sam Ferguson said under Horizons’ watch, pollution continued at rates that were unsustainable within the environment.
“Under Horizons’ watch, the polluters are given a licence to continue.”
The current approach gave incentive to increase intensive land use and increase pollution.
This needed to be managed by education, a partnership approach, and firm enforcement where necessary.
Geoff Kane said as a farmer who had gone through the One Plan consents process, the challenge was frustrating.
“For this plan to work, all parties must work together for one purpose: to clean up our rivers.”
Court action would create a rift between parties, to the detriment of all river users.
Colleen Sheldon said the plan was fair and equitable to farmers, market gardeners, councils as well as businesses and communities which depended on them for economic viability and a sustainably-managed environment.
Strict enforcement could lead to huge costs to ratepayers for little environmental gain.
“Our scientists say water quality is improving and I absolutely trust their integrity.”
Lindsay Burnell said the huge investment in reducing nutrients was having a positive effect on targeted waterways.
Reducing nitrogen leaching was one tool used for intensive farming, along with fencing, and wise use of effluent and fertiliser.
District council sewage and industrial discharges were also challenges.
Nicola Patrick was concerned about the slow pace of reducing excess nutrient discharge and the “potentially uneven playing field” in the way the consents were administered.
Following up on consents is vital – monitoring and taking action is a necessary part of achieving the environmental standards set, especially given the water woes near neighbours are experiencing.
Allan Wrigglesworth said a lack of in-depth reporting was a concern.
“How can anyone from the wider public come to an informed opinion on this issue without hard data?”
He said there were problems with communication from Horizons to the public and without data and dialogue, the truth remained a mystery.
David Cotton said the council was working hard to include everyone on the journey of water quality improvement.
“We know it won’t happen overnight.”
Cotton said legal action could cost ratepayers $500,000 and would not improve water quality – “but will improve lawyers’ bank accounts”.
Bruce Rollinson said farmers and industry organisations were making significant investments improving water quality.
That was because they had confidence in Horizons’ approach, he said.
“Now this is back in the courts we could see that investment to improving water quality diverted back into court costs.”
John Chapman said the plan had not been properly implemented, but noted there were many interested parties whose expectations were often at odds.
He wanted all the region’s waterways to be target catchments so scientific measurement could be applied to establish whether there was a problem, and develop nutrient-management strategies to improve them.
Wiremu Te Awe Awe, Christine Moriarty, and Jeremy Austin did not respond.