Regional councils need to strengthen dairy farm effluent storage rules to protect rivers from pollution during extreme weather the Green Party said today.
"The recent spate of heavy rain has exposed totally inadequate regional council rules around the storage of dairy effluent with the result that many rivers will be polluted with faecal material and nitrogen run off," Green Party Co-leader Russel Norman said.
Farmers are required to store dairy shed effluent until soils are dry enough to absorb it, but because of recent wet weather, some farmers in South Otago and Southland have reached, or are about to hit, their storage capacity and will spray effluent onto soaked land. Environment Southland has suspended compliance enforcement on dairy farms in parts of the province.
"Spraying millions of litres of cow faeces and urine on wet ground means more pollution of our aquifers and rivers. On soaked soils the effluent runs straight through into groundwater or over the ground into our rivers. It also creates more stress for farmers already suffering the worst spring in decades," Dr Norman said.
"We have a freshwater crisis in New Zealand with many of our lowland rivers too polluted for our children to swim in and our native freshwater fish disappearing before our eyes. While farmers cope with the aftermath of the rains, councils need to think about strengthening effluent storage rules to avoid this happening again," Dr Norman said.
"We need regional councils to require greater effluent storage capacity so effluent can be stored until soils are dry. And not just in Southland and Otago, it is a national problem.
"The Land and Water Forum's recent report shows that there is an acceptance we need to clean up our waterways. More sensible rules that protect our waterways from pollution are needed."
Climate change would result in more extreme weather events like the recent heavy rains, the Green MP said. Councils needed to give farmers good guidance so that they were not forced to pollute.
"Farmers want a consistent approach. Frequent rule changes are not ideal for farmers or the environment."
Councils throughout New Zealand needed clear direction from central government about how to prepare for climate change including effluent storage rules but Minister for the Environment Nick Smith had refused to provide it, according to Dr Norman.
The Green Co-leader said he was especially concerned over recent calls to double Southland's dairy herd: "Intensive dairy is just not suitable on some soil types. No matter how good the farming practice, pollution of our waterways will occur. While there might be short term economic gains from more dairy conversions, the impact on some of these soils will see us worse off in the long term."