Tailored solutions needed for catchment level water quality issues

The best hope for resolving water quality issues lies in catchment and sub-catchment groups that engage key stakeholder interests for a pathway to better outcomes says Waikato Federated Farmers Provincial President Andrew McGiven.

In an opinion piece he says:

Now that the all the fuss around the election has died down and a coalition has been formed, we've seen some sense with the proposed water levy/tax being dumped from the policy agreement.

I for one wasn't in favour of this blunt method to try and address various waterway challenges, but I also believe that water quality issues won't go away unless we all start to address them.

It was interesting to read that New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers president Graham Carter had also acknowledged that local councils and farmers each have an equal part to play in finding solutions to our fresh water quality woes.

Here in the Waikato catchment, submissions are being considered on the proposed Healthy Rivers Plan Change One. To me, the plan in its present shape and form is very myopic around nitrogen and thus will fail to address the real problem contaminants; sediment and E. coli.

While these two contaminants are certainly not a "farming only" issue, I believe farmers could substantially address them through adopting a sub-catchment approach that would enable them to take ownership of whatever discharges and/or mitigations that are required to reduce or eliminate these polluting elements.

With this in mind, perhaps it is time for farmers around the catchment to start investigating setting up farmer-led and initiated sub-catchment governance groups that could become key stakeholders with the regional council alongside the likes of Fish & Game, DOC and iwi.

The groups would go a long way to showing the hearing commissioners, government and public that farmers are ready and willing to accept responsibility and accountability for their environment.

Naturally there would need to be agreed forms of monitoring and enforcement in these sub-catchment plans so that they have teeth. But if farmers are informed and engaged, I believe the environmental outcomes that we all seek will be better achieved.

With the current plan being so blunt I think it will miss the mark in terms of outcomes the Waikato community wants, will be very costly for the rural communities and towns in terms of job losses, and will also alienate the farmer community, so stopping their essential buy-in.

There is a world of difference when comparing a reluctant form-filling exercise versus an engaged community group that is focused on outcomes, locally-tailored solutions and results in a smaller, defined area.

It is essential that WRC view these groups as key stakeholders so that dialogue and initiative is encouraged, and mutual respect developed. Farmers have a lot of local knowledge and expertise and it would be remiss if this is ignored.

This approach is hardly ground-breaking, with a number of successful farmer-led catchment groups throughout the country operating in conjunction with the local council, and achieving extraordinary results.

The results are a win-win for community/council relations and an environmental good news story.

However, as Carter acknowledged, our local councils also need to shoulder some responsibility and start addressing the discharges from urban areas.

Just because they have a consent to dispose of waste and stormwater in our waterways doesn't mean that they should leave addressing the problems just before the consent expiry date.

Just imagine the storm if it was a farmer doing the same.