NZ Farmer - Horizons tells dairy farmers Rangitīkei River quality improving

Written by Jill Galloway

There is no place for blaming dairy farmers or urban sewage outfalls for the lack of river cleanliness, says the Manawatū/Whanganui's  Horizons Regional Council.

Dairy farmers were told by the council that less nitrogen and waste was going into the Rangitīikei River and water quality was improving.

Horizons freshwater and partnerships manager Logan Brown told about 20 dairy farmers that the work they were doing was paying off.

He said nitrites and nitrates - the two components of soluble nitrogen - were showing improvement across all eight monitored sites.

"There are two main nutrients in terms of algae growth ... in general terms phosphorous is from hill country, and nitrogen from dairy farms."

Brown said Horizons monitored water quality changes such as nitrogen levels in the water and bug activity.

"It takes years probably before we see any improvement. There is a change made on the land, then it goes into groundwater, makes its way to the river, and then has to show in your data. Maybe it can be up to 10 years in some places."

He said generally there were improvements in other rivers, such as the Upper Manawatū, which flowed from Dannevirke to the Woodville side of the Manawatū Gorge.

One farmer said he talked to urban people and they always thought water quality issues were the fault of farming.

"Townie mates I hang out with at the weekend, always blame me," he said.

The source of discharge from towns and cites was well monitored in the Horizons area, Brown said. 

"And there is no denying, in low flows some point source discharges do have a significant effects on our rivers. But in fairness everyone is doing stuff. The farmers and urban entities are working to make water quality better.  In their long term plans that all the districts have out, they are all upgrading point source discharges."

He gave the example of the Feilding based Manawatū District Council which was moving from treated waste going into the Oroua River - a tributary of the Manawatū River - to a land-based system. It now owns several farms near its sewage treatment system and will discharge to land in the future.

"We have to get away from the blame game because everyone is doing their bit. There might be a few organisations that are behind others. But everyone just sees the great work going on to clean up waterways," Brown said.

Meanwhile, Federated Farmers said all the hard work done to improve freshwater quality was paying off.

The comments are based on a water quality report in the 10 years to 2016  by  Land, Air, Water Aotearoa and followed a similar 10 year analysis released in 2015 by National Institute of Water & Atmospheric Research.

"There are lots of good things going on, both urban and rural, to help improve the quality of our waterways," Federated Farmers water and environment spokesman Chris Allen said.

Compared with the 2015 report, a change in the trend of nitrogen was noteworthy, with progress in the number of improving sites compared with deteriorating sites, he said.

"We need to acknowledge that freshwater management processes take time, but these results show that by identifying where action is needed catchment by catchment and working together we can see results," Allen said.

"We are not there yet and there is more work to do, but it is good to know that the work our communities are doing is making a measurable difference which we are starting to see."