The state of our freshwater has got so bad that scientists, tourism operators, health experts and environmental organisations have come together to speak out. What has brought this group together in an unprecedented stance? Their concerns are shared because clean water is the backbone of our economy, our environment and our society. Tourism is our number one export earner, and our 100% Pure brand is under threat. Even more worrying are the problems with contaminated drinking water that we are seeing in Canterbury (with rising nitrogen levels) and the Hawkes Bay (with bacteria).
The reaction of the Government to these looming problems has been completely inadequate. So these groups have come up with a plan for much stronger action. This plan is a first, and one that The Opportunities Party welcomes. We have already released some ideas that will improve our fresh water in our environment policy, but plan to release a more detailed policy specifically on fresh water soon. Let’s look at the seven ideas below and see how they fit with The Opportunities Party policy:
1. Protect the health of people and their waterways by setting strict and enforceable water quality standards, based on human and ecosystem health limits.
Most people talk about swimmable rivers, because that is what the public relates to. But of course we want to be able to gather kai, and make sure our native species can live in the water too.
2. Withdraw all public subsidies of irrigation schemes as they increase pressure on waterways.
Absolutely – public subsidies for irrigation are crazy, particularly when we don’t make polluters pay for the resulting damage. The public are just paying people to make a mess that the public then pay again to clean up.
3. Invest in an agricultural transition fund, to support the country’s shift away from environmentally-damaging farming methods by redirecting $480 million of public money earmarked for irrigation.
This is a neat idea, and a far better way to spend the money. We also see the revenue from making polluters pay (discussed below) going towards farmers that pollute less, which will create a much bigger incentive for this transition.
4. Implement strategies to decrease cow numbers immediately.
The Opportunities Party certainly opposes further intensification (putting more cows on the land) unless it can be demonstrated that water quality will not be affected (e.g. through the use of feed pads). That said, a reduction in cow numbers is the most likely outcome.
5. Reduce freshwater contamination by instigating polluter pays systems nationally.
This is central to The Opportunities Party’s clear water solution. For example any farmer leaching above a set level of nitrogen in a catchment will be charged, with the money going to a farmer that is leaching below that level. This will create the strongest possible incentive to reduce pollution and improve our fresh water.
6. Address the performance of regional councils on improving water quality through quarterly reports from the ministry for the environment on enforcement, breaches and monitoring.
We agree there is an issue with oversight, and this is highlighted in our policy. If the Ministry for the Environment is going to have the oversight role, we would need some assurance that the Minister will not interfere.
7. Adopt the OECD recommendation to establish a “whole-of-government multistakeholder process to develop a long-term vision for the transition of New Zealand to a low-carbon, greener economy.”
Again, this makes complete sense, and is part of our climate policy.
In short, we welcome this report and thank those that helped create it. The fact that there is so much agreement shouldn’t come as a surprise; that is what happens when you look at the evidence and create a solution to the problem.