Friendly solution to farm water issues

Pomahaka Water Care Group best practice team co-ordinator Bryce McKenzie casts his eye over the Pomahaka River near Waikoikoi. Photo: Richard Davison
Pomahaka Water Care Group best practice team co-ordinator Bryce McKenzie casts his eye over the Pomahaka River near Waikoikoi. Photo: Richard Davison
A farmer-led catchment monitoring group wants to expand its activities following a successful first year.

In 2014, the Pathway for the Pomahaka water quality improvement project was launched in West Otago, which led to the establishment of the Pomahaka Water Care Group.

Last February, the award-winning group launched the latest phase of its action plan, in the shape of a ‘‘Best Practice Team’’ of 12 volunteers, set up to provide ‘‘self-policing’’ of water quality compliance among the catchment’s about 600 farms.

Team co-ordinator Bryce McKenzie — who farms 700 cows on 320ha adjoining the Pomahaka River — said the concept had worked well during its inaugural year.

‘‘We’ve had maybe seven or eight contacts alerting the team to potential issues on catchment farms this year, from which our volunteers have conducted five follow-ups.

‘‘That’s five instances where a problem has been sorted by a friendly tap on the shoulder rather than a complaint to regulatory authorities, which we believe is a much better way to deal with low level issues of this kind.’’

The team would initiate a farm visit after receiving an anonymous alert from NZ Landcare Trust, which monitored a hotline number on its behalf.

A pair of farmer volunteers, usually known to the farmer being visited, would then alert the non-compliant farm to any issues, in the hope of a ‘‘straightforward’’ resolution, Mr McKenzie said.

To date, the system had been universally well-received, he said.

‘‘Farmers don’t like dobbing in other farmers to the authorities, so this is a non-confrontational alternative that does what everybody wants in the first place, which is to get things fixed quickly and quietly.

‘‘Those we’ve visited have been pleased to be contacted, and have generally responded immediately to fix things.’’

Issues have centred on averting run-off entering waterways, which would remain the focus for the team, he said.

‘‘We’re not here to foster vendettas or get into fringe activities, and we’re careful to stay focused on our core goals.’’

Although eventually he would like to see the hotline become redundant, due to widespread adoption of best practices, in the meantime Mr McKenzie encouraged those spotting potential infringements to get in touch.

The team can be contacted on 027 POMAHAK (027 766-2425).

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