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Poor water quality for 89 percent of Southland rivers

Poor water quality for 89 percent of Southland rivers

As freshwater experts from around the world converge in Rotorua this week to partake in a five day international conference on water pollution, comes news that Southland’s rivers and streams aren’t faring so well when it comes to water health. Environment Southland has just released its Southland Water 2010 report showing that of the 69 sites tested, 89 percent were deemed to be either poor or very poor. Just one river, the Monowai Rover, found its way into the good category. 

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman said the findings highlight a nationwide problem with councils not being able to stand up to polluters, adding that we “desperately need national standards for clean water”. 

“Scientists have shown that water quality decline in Southland and across New Zealand has been linked to the intensification of pastoral farming and the conversion of drystock farmland to dairy farming,” he said. 

“If history is our guide, without national standards, Environment Southland is unlikely to be able to protect our rivers and lakes from the effects of dairy expansion.” 

In August this year Environment Southland chief executive Ciaran Keogh told The Southland Times the region could not handle the affects from more intensified farming. And growing it is. The State of the Environment Report points to a rapidly expanding dairy industry, with just over 10 percent of the total dairy cows in New Zealand found in Southland. Spread into marginal land, water abstraction for irrigation, loss of vegetation and drainage and all negative side affects of the intensification of dairy framing. 

At the end of 2009 there were 589,184 dairy cows in the region, compared with 114,378 in 1994. The herds are farmed on just over 169,000ha of land. This land area has increased, by more than 10,000 ha since the 2008/09 season. The average herd size has also increased. 

Forestry too has adverse impacts on water quality. Putting aside the fact that only one percent of wood sourced in the Southland region comes from sustainably managed forests (the rest is from exotic forests), the exposure of bare ground burning, land preparation and harvesting a;; increase the risk of erosion and of sediment entering waterways. The weight of machinery can also compact soil and impact its ability to hold water, thus increasing runoff. 

In spite of New Zealand being painted as clean and green, this latest report won’t come as a surprise to many. In 2009 the Cawthron Institute ranked the Manawatu River at the top of its most polluted rivers list,  which featured over 300 rivers and streams across North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand. 

 Check out Environment Southland’s full water report here.