Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Choices: Water

Now that the circus is over, the election campaign has begun. And the Southland Times has started out by trying to make water quality an election issue. Southland is on the sharp end of the dairy boom, and it shows:

89 per cent of all rivers and streams in Southland have a water-quality rating of poor or very poor. We have only one "clean" river, the Monowai in Fiordland.

20 per cent of all water bores in the province had bacteria levels, mainly nitrate, exceeding guidelines in the most recent study done, two years ago.

Residents in some outlying towns are regularly warned to boil water before drinking it, because of high pollution levels.

A foul taste, from increased nitrate levels, afflicts the Invercargill water supply in high summer.

The Mataura and Waikaia rivers regularly carry excessive E. coli bacteria.

Nitrate leaching into our waterways has become so prevalent that two years ago Environment Southland tests showed 65 per cent of the sites it was monitoring had elevated nitrate levels.

Waituna Lagoon, once a shining example of our clean, green environment, is now so polluted that scientists fear it is irrecoverable.

This isn't just an abstract environmental issue. People can't drink the water because it smells. They can't swim in the rivers because it makes them sick. That matters, even to people in Invercargill. While Environment Southland recognises the problem, and is cracking down on new dairy farms, they're wondering what, if anything, central government will do to help.

So, what are the major parties' policies in this area?

  • National doesn't regard the environment as a priority. What little information they have is buried at the bottom of the page, just ahead of "Supporting our Pacific Communities" (who rank last in National's hierarchy of policy needs). And the policy itself? Water gets as much space as the picture of John Key, and its all about what they've done in the past (largely gutting the Land & Water Forum's proposed National Policy Statement in favour of one more acceptable to their farmer-cronies). Unmentioned: turning Canterbury into a dictatorship to prevent it from cracking down on farm pollution, establishing an irrigation fund to make the problem worse, promoting dairy expansion. They stand for more of the same, not greater protection.
  • Labour has a specific water policy, which emphasises their commitment to water quality. They want a stronger National Policy Statement, restrictions on damming rivers for irrigation, and for water to be regulated by elected regional councils. They also want to make farmers and other large users pay a resource rental, with the funds going towards improving water quality within the relevant region.
  • The Greens also have a water policy, which is similar to Labour's (because Labour got it from them). A resource rental, a stronger NPS, and more power for regional councils. They differ on the strength and details, but the general thrust is the same.
That's a pretty clear choice then, between pollution and protection, between using a public resource for the benefit of the few and protecting it for the benefit of all. If you care about being able to swim in our lakes and rivers, then you should vote accordingly.