ORC urged to get tougher on dairying

Pressure on Otago waterways is greater than ever and a "marked lift" in monitoring water quality is needed to turn around the deteriorating trends in urban and rural waterways, Otago Fish and Game Council says.

The Otago Regional Council needs to "get ahead of the game" if it is to "hold the line" on Otago's surface water quality, the council decided at it meeting in Cromwell.

It called on the ORC to publish water quality monitoring results to assist with community understanding of the problem.

The calls come as some dairy farmers around the region are being prosecuted by the ORC for illegal discharges of dairy effluent.

Fish and Game Otago chairman John Barlow said while the ORC had taken a tougher stance on dairy pollution, "escalating" numbers of conversions from sheep farming to intensive dairying made the issue a moving target.

"We are facing an avalanche of industrial farming these days and not only dairy [farming]. The net result was even with best practice we continue to get non-point pollution of our streams."

The ORC had reported about 30 farmers contacting them in the past 18 months seeking advice on environmental requirements for dairy conversion.

While Otago's fishery had not yet been hugely affected by pollution, except in a few instances, the council wanted to prevent it from happening, he said.

"It is very hard to go back and repair things. What happens now will affect waterways in 10 years time."

It was a difficult situation, but the council believed a consent approach would send stronger signals to farmers as would both district and regional councils looking at discouraging intensive farming from unsuitable land, he said.

A "marked lift" in ORC resourcing in the water quality area could be required to actually turn around the deteriorating trends in both rural and urban waterways, he said.

Fish and Game's environment officer John Hollows said in a report to council that water quality in rivers and streams was generally poor and/or degrading in areas of intensive agriculture such as South and West Otago.

The majority of dairy farms in that area could not meet permitted activity rules because of a lack of effluent storage and the high application rate of effluent irrigators, he said.

The more vigorous compliance effort was unlikely to yield significant improvements in water quality because a continuing increase in dairy conversions and the highly mobile nature of dairy staff, he said.

"If urgent action is not taken, Otago may face an economically painful transition to sustainable agriculture and a large clean-up bill."

Mr Barlow said a particular worry for the council was the proposed dairy conversions in both the Upper Taieri and the Manuherikia catchments where soil types mean more run-off to rivers.

The two councils had already met to discuss the issues and the council had written to the ORC with its concerns.

It also planned to take the issues up with the region's district councils.

The council also had misgivings about ORC's plans to contribute to the Awatea St stadium diverting resources from its core business, he said.

ORC deputy chairman Stephen Woodhead rejected those comments, saying the stadium was a separate issue and no resources would be transferred.

The council was aware of the water quality issues and had held several workshops on the topic looking at its water plan and permitted activity rules, he said.

There would also be papers presented to council committees in coming months on the issues.

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