Tighter nitrate limits loom

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Long term thinking . . . Dave Ashby says dairy farmers need to look to the future. File photo

 

By DAVID HILL

Nitrate limits look certain to be tightened in the Waimakariri Zone after Environment Canterbury’s recent assessments.

Waimakariri Zone committee chairman Dave Ashby says the regional council’s nitrate assessments indicate “the situation is probably more serious than we initially thought”.

The committee is now liaising with its Christchurch/West Melton counterpart and talking with local farmers to propose new nitrate limits for the zone.

“Good management practice isn’t going to be enough,” he says. “There will be reductions and everybody needs to be aware of that.

“We need to accentuate the good work farmers are doing, but we also recognise the impacts intensive farming is having on water quality.

“The community can rest assured the zone committee is taking this very seriously, but it’s not about a blame game, it’s about working towards a resolution.”

Mr Ashby says because of the complexity of the problem, ECan recently agreed to extend the deadline for the zone committee to release the draft zone implementation plan for public consultation by two months, to the end of August.

But the final plan must still be notified by June 2019.

ECan’s chief scientist, Dr Tim Davie, announced in December that scientific investigations into potential groundwater movements under the Waimakariri River had found low levels of “nitrate-nitrogen” in aquifers and wells in Kaiapoi, Belfast and northern Christchurch.

This has led to the zone committee liaising with its Christchurch/West Melton counterpart, with one joint workshop held recently and another one planned.

The zone committee has also recently met with Waimakariri Irrigation Ltd shareholders and is engaging with other farmer groups and the wider community to discuss what nitrate limits and time-frames are “workable”.

“It is about protecting our waterways,” Mr Ashby says.

“We have to protect the future and we have to be making decisions now for future generations.

“We are working with the farming community to plan what levels of reductions are going to be workable.

“There will be reductions. I can’t talk about the scale or the timeframes, but we are working through those.”

Despite the challenges, Mr Ashby says local farmers are “moving in the right direction”.

Recently released statistics show the Canterbury region is leading the way in farm environment plans, with more than 52 percent of farms having a formal plan in place.

Results of Landcare Research’s rural decision-makers survey of 4000 farmers across New Zealand also showed that 51% of Canterbury farms are classed as lifestyle blocks, with the rest classified as commercial operations.

The Waimakariri district has more than 4500 lifestyle blocks, the highest number of any district in New Zealand.