A Personal Opinion Piece by Councillor Mike Plowman

Recently the National Media reported that the Manawatu River is one of the most polluted rivers in the world pointing the finger to Horizons Regional Councils own report on Dissolved Oxygen, as measured at Hopelands in the Tararua District and Opiki down stream of Palmerston North. Dissolved Oxygen is used as a measure of the nutrient content of water, causing aquatic growth to either thrive or visa versa. We had Horizons Regulatory Manager Gregg Carlyon explaining and down playing the importance of the findings. And Federated Farmers representative, Gordon Mc Keller, reported as saying here comes another round of Farmer Bashing.

Lets look at the issue of water quality in another light. For a number of years now, certainly since 2004, water quality has taken centre stage. The Farming Industry has taken the brunt of concerns. Certainly one or two practices have had to change. But  on analysing a technical report to support policy development;  ‘Recommended Water Quality Standards for the Manawatu – Wanganui Region’, by Dr Olivier Ausseil, Report No 2007/Ext/806, it quickly became apparent the water quality was poorest at specific sites on specific rivers. All down stream of Urban effluent and waste water discharges. And believe it or not one of the worst in Horizons Region is the Governments own facility, the Military camp at Waiouru. Or sites of significant industry, eg the Tui Brewery at Mangatainoka or the Winstone International Pulp Mill at Kariori. A past Regional Council tour stopping at Mangatainoka, Councillors were told that 6 tonnes of phosphate a year is discharged in  waste water. The reason is the detergents used for washing bottles. Similarly the Kariori Pulp Mill, both phosphate and nitrogen used resulting in high soluble biochemical oxygen levels causing heterotrotrophic growths down stream. In the Environment Committee Agenda, Horizons Regional Council, 9th December it is all there. Notified consents requiring action. Ten applications from around Horizons Region, from District Councils seeking resource consents for up grades to sewage plants. This is not a new phenomenon, with the Regions sewage and waste water being a regular on the agenda. With a quick analysis of District Council Annual Plans across the region, the reasons are much the same. Waste Water blockages, Sewage ponds becoming overloaded, both in the dry and wet environment, local Marae, lack of capacity to deal with large influxes of people which occur periodically, excessive ground water infiltration causing overflows from reticulation at sewer pump stations and or treatment plants, including waste water. Looking over the boundary at Waitomo District Councils Effluent and Waste Water Management Plan, same issues, effluent treatment plant Te Kuiti, subject to overflows, and whilst they identify waste water treatment they appear to have solved the problem if any by denying there is a problem. All that Phosphate. How much is there and where is it going?

Environment Waikato has drawn a line in the sand with regard to Lake Taupo, putting the blame on a very small and not intensively farmed catchment, the Western Bays. Imposing strict Nitrogen Leaching limits on farmers.

But lets look at this again, most Nitrogen applied in one form or another to farmed land is utilised by the pasture, only in two or so winter months every year when pasture growth is lowest. Could it be said there may be a problem. Phosphate is similar, being utilised by pasture, with a lot of it being locked up and released slowly over time. This is called the phosphate retention of soils. No it does not  run straight off to water. If the problems identified above occur in all the Industrial sites and urban communities effluent and waste water treatment plants across New Zealand on a regular basis, which I believe they do. Where is the problem being created? Is it fair to blame Agriculture and land use practices pertaining to the use of ? We also know that deep or old water naturally accumulates Nitrogen. It rots. Is this also part of the percieved water quality problem ? (Aqualink, Wai 903,#A157 pg 146, Ministry of Justice).

Horizons again commissioned a report in 2008, Titled ‘Review of Fluvial Science,’ by Greame Smart, NIWA. Client Report, CH 2008-018. This report points out on page 7, Stop Banking prevents the beneficial minor flooding of  riparian zones, increased flow velocities in a controlled river adversely effects the rivers habitat. Single threading of rivers for efficient flood  passage reduces natural habitat and diversity. We have trout 24/7, 365 days of the year gobbling their way through our regions aquatic biodiversity. All the little creepy crawlies which are essential to a healthy river and its associated life forms. What is worse trout are protected under section 7 of the Resource Management Act.

The point I am making is. If the Government is quite prepared to continue to operate the sewage and waste water treatment plants at Waiouru Military Camp under alot less stringent requirements in terms of the receiving environment, than those it is imposing on Industry and District Councils. Using Maoridoms failure to agree on an appropriate method of treatment as the excuse. Or protect trout under the RMA. Then can Government demand through Regional Councils nationally, overly restrictive rules and regulations adding huge costs in the form of constant upgrades to achieve standards it itself is not prepared to adhere to. Example; Ruapehu District Council Long Term Community Council Plan 09/2019. Water and Sanitary Services. Ever increasing higher standards and shorter time frames to implement. All adding cost to already over taxed communities. Leading the Ruapehu Council to comment in terms of section 10 of the Local Govt Act, as a level of service required, provided by (a) Sewage Activity.

(i) Democracy

(ii) Effectiveness

(iii) Local Government Decision Making

(iv) Community Well Being

Up grades are needed in all Ruapehus population centres, at a targeted cost of $9.5 million over 3 years. I believe this is indicative, as already stated, nationally. The Winstone Pulp Mill has already spent $300,000 on consultants preparing the application for a Resource Consent to up grade its Waste Water Plant to be commissioned September 2011 at a cost of $10 Million. $10.3 million in total. What is going to happen to the cost of a bottle of Tui when DB Breweries finds itself in the same position?!

 Recently Silver Fern Farms closed its Oringi Meat Processing Plant down stream on the Manawatu River from Dannevike. Whilst it has been said the plant designed for a life span of 20 years it is also said that it is the plants failure to comply with conditions of its Resource Consent for effluent disposal was the main reason for closure. If this is the case, 400 employees moved else where, including Australia, to find employment, if in deed all found employment. One high profile industry in nearby Dannevirke immediately shut its doors.

The Government, through Environment Waikato, has opened the door to a new perceived method of improving water quality. By using a method of limiting agricultural production on certain soils  identified as Land Use Classes, as already mentioned. These classes have the potential to be very draconian in limiting productive output, forcing land use change to other uses. This does not mean that they will continue to support communities as we know it, forcing demographic shifts to larger and larger population centres. Adding even more cost to social services and infrastructure. Potentially sending even more  NZ trained proffessionals overseas in search of better employment opportunities.

 But will it improve water quality? Given the reasons outlined No. To my enlightened mind the real problem is our urban and industrial communities effluent and waste water treatment plants and their inability to keep pace with urban and semi urban growth. 

In the New Zealand Herald January 14th page A5 John Key is reported;  Raising Economic Growth to be Governments Major Focus this Year. Lower personal taxes and shoring up the tax base still important. It is hard to see how Government is going to deliver when it is imposing higher and higher standards over shorter time frames on Local Government and Industry adding cost to the National Economy. Which will still only alleviate the issue to some extent with avaliable technology.

Adding to this we have Maoridom as a major land owner. The Treaty of Waitangi Act 1975, Second Article, guarantees Maoridom the full,  undisturbed and exclusive use, possession of their lands. It appears they too have been caught up in ever increasing overly restrictive rules and regulations governing the use of land, so much so that one day it almost certainly is going to become part of the grievance process already being delt with by the Waitangi Tribunal. Costing New Zealanders even more to settle.

 When the above is combined with wayward Monetary Policy, hands off Government allowing the Market to prevail and  using the Reserve Bank singularly to control inflation using high interest rates, this will cause a continuing deterioration of the Nations economy. Sorry John, nice try. But dreams are free . In the real world it is not like that. Agriculture contributes 70% to New Zealands real economy, the External Economy. It is the major contributor to every New Zealanders standard of living, which as we know has slipped alarmingly this past 20 years.

It has come to my attention that the major Australian trading Banks operating in NZ recognise all is not well and it is for all the reasons I have outlined, and are acting accordingly. It is my view that NZ borrowers are paying a good solid 3-4% risk premium on all borrowings. It has been reported that the National bank of Australia is moving to place its NZ operation, the BNZ, on a stand alone basis, and the Australia New Zealand Banking group is pulling the ANZ out of NZ, leaving the National Bank to battle on alone, I believe protecting their home/ parent banking assets. They are preparing for a even greater deterioration of the NZ economy over the coming years.

The Resource Management Act needs a major rewrite and a number of Parliamentry Enactments need to be revisited. There needs to be much greater emphasis, as the Ruapehu District Council Points out, on section 5 of the RMA and section 10 of the Local Government Act. The  Health, Wealth, Social and Cultural needs of all NZers.

Why are we being subjected to Overly restrictive/subjective Acts of Parliament, Rules and regulations adding cost and destroying wealth, for minimal if any improvement in Water quality? Why are we doing this to ourselves? For it should be obvious there is no return from the market for a pure NZ brand. Where are our elected representatives and decision makers leading us. Why?