Concern over water quality 'a bit dramatic': Federated Farmers

Nigel Paragreen. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Nigel Paragreen. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Myfanwy Alexander. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Myfanwy Alexander. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Otago Fish & Game has been accused by farmers of being "a bit dramatic" after sounding the alarm about the state of the region’s freshwater.

Otago Fish & Game environmental officer Nigel Paragreen said recently released research into the region’s waterways showed a "dire" state of freshwater that could not be ignored.

Federated Farmers North Otago president Myfanwy Alexander called his take "panicky" and "reactive".

The friction comes as both sides urge a different approach for the Otago Regional Council’s forthcoming land and water plan as a second consecutive environment minister takes an interest in council matters.

Fish & Game has urged councillors to stay the course on the land and water plan and notify the plan on June 30 — a date set by former environment minister David Parker.

Federated Farmers has said a delay — as recommended by present environment minister Penny Simmonds — makes sense.

After regional councillors voted 8-4 against a delay last month, Ms Simmonds said she was weighing up whether to use her ministerial powers to address the matter.

The government had made it clear it would revise the national policy statement for freshwater management (NPSFM) within the next 18 months, Ms Simmonds said.

"We do not want to see ratepayers’ money being wasted on something that will change in the near future," she said last week.

"We have made this position very clear to ORC and they will be receiving further correspondence from me on this."

Mr Paragreen said reports developed as part of the land and water plan process indicated "the situation is pretty dire for water quality in many parts of the region".

For example, nitrogen and phosphorus loads might need to be cut by up to 50%, or more than 70%, to achieve the national bottom line in parts of the Lower Clutha, Taieri, North Otago and some catchments along the Dunedin coast.

E. coli loads in the same areas might need to be cut by up to 40%, or at times up to 80%, to meet a standard suitable for activities, such as swimming or fishing.

And 70% of estuary sites studied in the region suffered from high or very high levels of eutrophication, Mr Paragreen said.

"We are not putting blame on any one particular person or group. These issues apply to urban communities as much as they apply to rural communities.

"All we’re saying is here is some information that has come out that is really, really critical, and what it shows is that it is not ‘opinion’.

"What these reports quite clearly say ... is that there is a real tangible problem in Otago.

"Our ecosystem, our freshwater ecosystems are in dire straits and we need to do something about it."

There would be rules that came into effect immediately upon notification of the plan, he said.

"For me it’s not necessarily about this NPSFM, or the next NPSFM, this is about regional councils getting on and doing the job that they are meant to do, that they have been empowered to do through the RMA."

Ms Alexander said there was agreement from both sides that what was wanted was the best water possible in the region’s rivers. Where the disagreement lay was "the method to get there and the pace".

"The key is going to be long-lasting results.

"If we faff around now and don’t get this right, all we’re going to do is we’re going to be writing this again in another three years."

To say Otago’s freshwater was in a dire state was "a bit dramatic".

"I think everyone’s got a point of view, and there’s a reason for that point of view — but the drama doesn’t actually help anything."