7000 dairy cows on a 2322ha farm in Hawea Flat…
Startled by this idea, feeling that it can damage beautiful Hawea river and far beyond, I did a bit of Internet research to understand… Here is gathered and summarised relevant information. Click on the maroon words to open links to internet documents. I am not a specialist and invite you to leave comments if some statements are wrong or incomplete… I hope this post contributes to an important debate. Feel free to use any or all of it.
“Best possible way” not good enough
Intensive dairy farm “the best possible way” does not mean it is good enough. Rules are too loose to protect our waters as detailed in this submission against the Freshwater management act by the Guardians of Lake Wanaka and The Cawtron report on National Policy Statement available from Fish & Game website.
To summarize the issues, Regional councils can let water quality degrade as long as some others are improved. In the case of our pretty good water quality overall in our upland area, it simply means that the law allows our waters to be degraded. It is important to be aware of the fact that the current laws do not set any limits to freshwater pollution. Water quality standard, mainly compliance criteria exist only for public drinking water.
Intensive dairy farming is the main water polluter in NZ
Damming is partly responsible for freshwater species decline when it does not provide migratory routes facilities. Industrial and human pollution are affecting water quality obviously too. But many studies prove that land use intensification is the main cause of water quality decline in New Zealand, in particular intensive dairy farming.
From the detailed article “Clean, Green and endangered” article by David Brooks published in Forest & Bird Issue 341, August 2011, dairy farming leads to:
- lots of water being removed from rivers,
- pasture erosion, leading to flows of sediments
- damaging nutrients from fertilisers and animal waste leaching back into our water bodies.
In a following article “Our Sacred cows”, by Dr Mike Joy says “the number of cows milked in the South Island has increased sevenfold”. He adds:
- Only shed effluent is controlled by regulation
- Other effluents are unchecked (uncheckable indeed), just an externality
- Worse still, cows are fed with imported palm kernel, for which rainforests are massively destroyed
- In 20 years, the dairy boom has generated a 700 per cent increase in nitrogen fertiliser use, with the consequences detailed in a previous post.
That is a case against intensive dairy farming alltogether, not only in our backyard.
No resource consent needed
If water if not a resource, then what is? Yet, there is no need for public submission to resource consent for land use intensification. This is why there was no resource consent submission for Hawea dairy farming plan, therefore no avenue for people to say what they think. We cannot trust our Council to protect our waters, because laws do not cover it properly. The community interests are not protected by the law. The laws give advantage to dairy farming which is a leading NZ export sector (i.e. lots of $$ for some), provided that they intensify production. Meanwhile in Europe, the catastrophic state of rivers prompted capping intensification and reducing fertilisers use.
I have explored the MFE website, in particular the “Managing Waterways on Farms” section. Now, tell me if I am wrong but the only thing I found is: “The first priority for the management of nutrient contamination should be excluding livestock from streams and stream channels.” Should! It is not even compulsory! I have also skimmed the Otago Regional Council Plan : Water and found the word “livestock” once. In the FAQ however, I find: “while you are allowed to graze all forms of stock near waterways, they must not damage or pug the bank or contaminate the waterway in any way”.
Even this law is not applied. I often witness cows walking in the rivers around the area, for example: Bulls grazing in Cardrona River on Robrosa Station, or cows roaming Motatapu river below the Wanaka-Mount Aspiring Road bridge.
It is also shown in the beautiful award-winning documentary River Dog by James Muir.
Now cows defecation impact on water quality is well documented for example in this study “Water quality impact of a dairy cow herd crossing a stream” by the Royal Society of New Zealand published in 2004 (find the conclusions on page 7)
It is important to note that even if not poured directly in the river, dejections and fertilisers do reach the water table or the rivers as it is acknowledged on the MFE website page Type of Activities that pose a threat to water quality. Check it out. There is no “Best possible solution”. Cows dejections and fertilisers WILL sooner or later end up in our waters.
- Clutha river
Consequences on our waters
“Just drink the water from the lake” is now a health hazard, as well as swimming in many areas. Water from the tap, is also an issue. The Ministry of health states in an ESR report dated 2006 that “ the actual number of waterborne cases lies between 18,000 and 34,000 a year”! In Hawea flat, residents take their water from bores reaching the aquifer. They will have to dig deeper to reach water and their water will be polluted one day.
Biodiversity is at great risk, with 60% of native fish, threatened with extinction, including the longfin eels. No fish ? No fishing! And many people have sadly observed a sharp decline in our areas in recent years. Also at risk, invertebrates, birds, freshwater crayfish and mussels.
New Zealand “100% pure” brand, a key to our thriving tourist industry is also at stake of course.
In the News
According to the news, everything is done by the rules, Otago Regional Council is setting up some monitoring tools, and there will be some jobs (Wanaka Sun 25th August). Great. But if intensive dairy farming is a national threat to waters, then surely it is not good for Hawea waters, is it? How doing the same thing could have a different outcome? I was confused to discover that the Coopers’ farm consultant, Peter Hook, is also chairperson of Guardians of Lake Wanaka. So it may mean that things are done indeed in the interests of the Upper Clutha waters or, that the laws are well known and used… For whose interests is not sure yet… What happens when the monitoring tools will show an increase of pollution? Can you remove pollution from water tables? Will they then reduce the numbers of cows when the damage is done?
I have read the Otago Daily Time Article about it and wonder why the owners declined a meeting. Do they have something to hide? The answers provided in the article to reassure residents about environmental impacts are that “Hawea is different, with low rainfall and different soil structure”. That raises more questions. How are they going to feed their cows on the famously lush- not!- grass of Hawea, without irrigation? Is irrigation not a factor of run-off? Different soil structure? Will it hold nitrogen in its little arms for ever? Or will the nitrogen take longer to reach the water table? Or what? Many questions are unanswered and a meeting would indeed be great to clarify things…
What can we do?
As somebody texted it in the latest Wanaka Sun, “We, the people of Wanaka, were able to stop the already consented spread of human waste in Tarras by speaking out. (…) so write to or email the Otago Regional Council.” Good idea, thank you for making a stand! I had started to text to Wanaka Sun too but “did not dared”. Now this comment and others published about the subject prompted me to do a bit of research and send it to ORC. In a previous article in ODT, new owners were considering other options too, so we are not preventing them from doing business if we ask them to revert from their lucrative but damaging intensive dairy farm plan. And the stock will not arrive before next year so there is time for action. Let’s do it!
So I ask ORC:
There will be a meeting shortly organised by Hawea residents. Date and venue To Be Confirmed.
The Otago Regional Council organizes a meeting in Cromwell on Tuesday September 13 at the Presbyterian Church from 11am to 2.30pm. Agenda : update local farmers on proposed changes to the Otago Water Plan at a series of upcoming water quality forums.
For the bigger picture, participate in Forest & Bird Freshwater for life campaign.
* 5.5 times more is planned in Hawea Flat. This rate would imply they “only” put 1277 cows on their land. Now Fonterra can only collect milk for 10,000kg of milk solids a year or more for a farm situated beyond its usual routes (Alexandra, Omarama or Fox Glacier). Some data found on NZ Agritech website calculates that 250 cows produce an average of 315 milk solid per year. 1277 cows will produce 1609 milk solids… Besides, this raises the issue of the fodder, fertilisers and milk travels and petrol use implied… Will Hawea flat milk travel to Christchurch to be processed or to Southland? Just not sustainable…
Florence Micoud, Wanaka
Any other idea? Please leave a comment below…