Last night Environment Minister Nick Smith delivered the annual environment lecture at Lincoln University.
Minister Smith reiterated that he felt having swimmable rivers and lakes is an unrealistic goal, despite that being the preference of the majority of New Zealanders. To illustrate his point Minister Smith held up the red herring of birds causing high E. coli levels, and reducing them would require a cull. In some specific areas he might be right, but he is overlooking the far bigger issue of farming across the country. For example our national herd creates over 30 times the sewage as our human population.
Instead the Minister pointed out that the Government is focused on improving the quality of our freshwater. There aren’t many successes that the Minister can point to from the work of the Government so far. And they have made no progress on the crucial issue – that some catchments simply have too many cows. Even if we fence and plant the waterways to take care of the E. coli issue, in some catchments too much nitrogen ends up in our rivers. This is the nettle that the Government and Regional Councils need to grasp, but meanwhile intensification of farming continues. In fact the Government is subsidising it by helping create irrigation and not charging farmers for the water they use and pollute.
Should the public believe the Government is really doing all it can to improve the quality of rivers? Here is the perspective of Massey University Freshwater Ecology scientist Professor Russell Death.