On Monday the Otago Regional Council began errecting warning signs at swimming spots along the Taieri River after tests showed faecal contamination at almost three times the safe limit. The source of the contamination? Farm animals. In response, the Greens are arguing that it is time to ban them from our rivers:
Green Party water spokesperson Eugenie Sage said it was unacceptable that parts of the river next to the Central Otago Rail Trail were unfit for swimming.
"Good farmers make sure stock are excluded from waterways. Where you've got this faecal contamination, it may be because some farmers are allowing their stock access to the river," she said.
"It's fundamental that we have rivers and streams which are free of stock but we don't have any national rules that require that. We need them."
Its a good idea, and long past time. Voluntary measures to get farmers to behave responsibly have failed (in part because farmers lie about their level of compliance); time for stronger measures.
Of course, if farming was treated like any other polluting activity and required resource consent under the RMA, rather than having a special exception, then the fencing of waterways could simply be imposed as a standard condition of consent (and non-compliance dealt with under an established legal regime of fines, abatement notices, and ultimately cancellation).