A&F Bulletin - New measures for freshwater management

Columns
Monday, March 21, 2016

Last month the Government announced proposed important new measures to improve the management, quality and efficiency of use of our rivers, lakes, aquifers and wetlands.

This is a very important document for all New Zealanders but particularly for farmers, as one of the proposed measures is to increase fencing around waterways.

The Government’s proposal is to see all stock, deer and pigs fenced away from waterways.

Sheep and goats will not be included, as they do less damage to streams and rivers.

I must point out that this approach puts the priority on lowland intensive farming and recognises the impracticality for farmers fencing in some of New Zealand’s steep high country.

Stock will only be required to be excluded from water bodies on flat land and lowlands and rolling hills on slopes of less than 15 degrees. However councils still will have the ability to apply stock exclusion rules more widely where they see this as necessary or desirable.

These measures aren’t entirely new: In 2014 the government made it mandatory for all dairy farms to be fenced from 2017 to prevent stock accessing waterways.

I personally feel some dairy companies have been slow to move on this, but in Marlborough, the majority of dairy farmers have done a great job.

The proposed freshwater management measures are as much about the real threat to our water quality as it is about the clean, green image that is so valuable to many of our export markets, including dairy and meat.

In January, a photo of livestock wading in Lake Taylor, beside a DOC campsite, spread on social media.

A picture says a thousand words - this, quite simply, is not a good look for our country.

But, as farmers often tell me and as I have seen myself, it is not just stock causing problems with water quality in our waterways.

Ducks and geese have a role to play, and I think fencing out stock is a great opportunity to identify precisely the damage and impact they have, and then make a decision on how to deal with this.

Another important aspect of the proposed measures I would like to mention is the work the Government has undertaken with iwi leaders on this issue to find a pragmatic way forward.

Their rights and interest are paramount, but at the same time fresh water is a resource we must look after for all New Zealanders.

The National Government’s position is that no one owns the water. There has been no consideration of any sort of iwi allocation or national settlement and any final decisions on plans on managing freshwater need to be made by councils.

I would urge all farmers to take a close look at the proposed measures: It’s very important that we get farmers’ views so that the rules that come out of this are workable for you.

Submissions are being accepted until April 22: Visit www.mfe.govt.nz/consultation/next-steps-fresh-water