Written by Gerard Hutching
Greenpeace is demanding the Government step in to stop a dairy farm development in the Mackenzie Basin which it says could run up to 15,000 cows.
Farm owner and Dunedin accountant Murray Valentine said he had amended the proposal since he applied for the consent in 2013, and it would now be a maximum of 5000. However, he has not terminated the application for 15,000 cows.
Greenpeace launched a "Save the Mackenzie" petition last week which had been signed by 10,000 people within 48 hours, one of its fastest growing petitions according to campaigner Gen Toop.
The environmental organisation wants all dairy conversions to be made "prohibited activities" when the Government amends regulations relating to national water policy.
The petition comes as Environment Minister David Parker has warned there will be stricter controls on the amount of pollution generated by farming, especially dairy.
It also follows news that Canterbury cow numbers are continuing to rise. The region's porous soils are more likely to leach nutrients into waterways and aquifers, and dairy cow numbers there have risen from 212,000 in the 1990s to 1.31 million today.
Valentine, who leases the Simons Pass pastoral lease and owns Simons Hill Station, said the original proposal for the two properties to be "all dairy" had been amended.
"The stocking rate is determined by the Overseer report which records the nutrient discharge. We complete a review every year for ECan (Environment Canterbury)."
He said he had consent from ECan to take water from Lakes Pūkaki and Tekapo to irrigate the dryland property and is in the process of building a pipeline. He also has permission from the Mackenzie District Council to build four dairy sheds, one of which is being built.
Toop said the wilderness landscape of the Mackenzie was not the appropriate region for dairy farming.
"The Mackenzie is not cow country. It's dry, its soils are leaky, which means dairy pollution runs straight through the stones and into the waterways, and it's incredibly ecologically sensitive".
The Simons Pass property just south of Lake Pūkaki is habitat for the endangered black stilt. There are about 100 of the wading bird left.
Toop said that despite Parker's announcement to crack down on pollution, it was not enough and called on the Government to stop all new dairy conversions and intensification of existing livestock farming.
"To make enough grass grow for intensive dairy in this dry environment Mr Valentine will have to heavily irrigate with water from our lakes and rivers as well as apply tonnes of chemical fertilisers - much of which will end up in the waterways," she said in a statement.
"New Zealand already has too many cows for our rivers, our land and our climate to cope with. We cannot allow the dairy industry to convert more land into dairy farms, especially not in the Mackenzie".
Mackenzie District Council confirmed it had granted resource consent for one dairy shed on Simons Pass station, which it understood has been constructed. Resource consents for a further three dairy sheds on Simons Pass station have been received which are being processed, with no decision made yet.
ECan chief operating officer Nadeine Dommisse said the irrigation permits were granted in 2012 following a lengthy hearing that also involved a large number of other consent applications by other parties.
Simons Hill and Simons Pass Stations appealed the conditions of consent and the decision to grant consent was appealed by the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand. Genesis Energy Limited, Meridian Energy Limited, the Mackenzie Guardians and Central South Island Fish and Game joined the appeals.
"The appeals were resolved through mediation and the consents started on October 27, 2016. Through the appeal process, a dryland recovery area was set aside and provision was made for its protection and ongoing management," Dommisse said.
The final number of cows on at least one of the properties, Simon's Pass Station, would depend on the completion of the farm development, and the final mix of livestock.
Federated Farmers environment spokesman Chris Allen said the consent application had been through a process involving the community, and he would prefer to leave it to the regulatory body [Ecan] to manage the issue.
"I'm not saying it's ideal to have a large number of cows in the Mackenzie because there are biodiversity and landscape values to be considered, and I know farmers who are opposed," Allen said.