Farmers express concerns over rules

Holding up a bottle of clear water taken from one of his drains, Taieri farmer Mike Lord has questioned the impacts of proposed changes to Otago's water quality regulations.

He was one of 11 people to present their views to the hearing panel on the first day of the Otago Regional Council's water plan 6A water quality plan changes held in Dunedin yesterday.

Mr Lord said the plan change had been sold on the claims that if the water looked good, smelled good and you could see your toes, then its quality could not be too bad.

Tests on the water in the bottle had shown while it met the levels for sedimentation, E. coli, and dissolved phosphorous, its nitrogen levels were too high. It was also on the high-end of the turbidity measurement.

"The creek looks crystal clear and has insects in it."

It cost $300 to get the tests done. He did not mind spending the money if he learnt something from the test, he said.

"Are we using a sledgehammer to crack a nut?"

He had real concern for farmers in the sensitive zones of North Otago and Wanaka, who could be forced to destock by 75%, causing a loss of jobs and viable businesses in the region.

"Has the cost of implementing this been looked at?"

The standards were way too rigid, he said.

"I have real reservations about what it will mean for some farmers."

Kate Wilson, on behalf of husband Callum, of Strathburn Ltd, said while she totally believed water was "the life blood of an area", the mechanism for change did not take into account the unintended consequences.

Farmers had no way on a daily basis to measure their run-off and know it complied without costly laboratory tests, which was "unfair and unreasonable".

"It's a huge cost to impose on farmers in the area. The cheapest way would be to farm cattle not sheep."

The changes would prevent them from allowing fishermen, motorcyclists and hunters on to their property for fear they would disturb a stream, she said.

"We can't take the risk."

Otago was a diverse region and using the same methodology and standards across it all was wrong. Instead the changes should be tested and trialled in those areas with water quality problems to see if it worked, she said.

"It's unfair and unjust as we just don't have an issue. As an unintended consequence, we'll be a much poorer province, generally."

Mr Geddes said as preparation for the hearing he had looked at ways other regional councils were tackling the issue and believed the Otago Regional Council's approach was by far the most empowering and cost-effective for landowners.

With other councils, an endless cycle of consents and monitoring was the result.

"It is different - different in a positive way."

Taieri dairy farmer Philip Wilson said the plan changes could push farmers to spend more than they could afford to meet the proposed standards or risk becoming criminals.

He called for a fair and balanced approach, because to comply with the timeframe given for the plan changes would force them to sell or go out of business, he said.

Berwick farmer Mark Beaton said he was concerned he could be penalised for the quality of water he was pumping off after a flood as it might take some time to pump the water away.

"This rule change has the potential to put us into a lot of strife with no misbehaviour on our part."

He was also concerned about the minimum distance being too great between crossings and forcing farmers to use roads, leaving farm muck on the surfaces.

Taieri farmer Ian Bathgate, of Janefield Farm, called for a delay in the implementation of the changes as they were very complex and tools like the latest version of Overseer were difficult to use.

"Too get a good result we've got to work together."

The hearing continues tomorrow in Dunedin.


Day 1

Where: Dunedin.

Panel: Crs Duncan Butcher (chairman), David Shepherd and independent member Clive Geddes.

Proposal: Changes to Otago's water regulations to prevent run-off in rural areas polluting the region's waterways.

Submitters: Roy Wilson, Simon Davies, Kate Wilson for Strathburn Ltd, David Blair, Marc Shallenberg, Philip Wilson, Mike Lord, University of Otago Zoology Department, Otago Inshore Fishing, Mark Beaton, Ian Bathgate, of Janefield.

Quote of day: "This rule change has the potential to put us into a lot of strife with no misbehaviour on our part," Berwick farmer Mark Beaton.

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