Greenpeace accuses Government of aggravating water crisis

Press release - April 27, 2017
Greenpeace says it’s time the Government woke up to its own advice on freshwater and stopped making matters worse.

The environmental organisation is accusing Prime Minister Bill English of only pretending to care about New Zealand’s rivers - then pumping more money into agricultural irrigation - which has been shown to aggravate freshwater pollution.

Today the Ministry for the Environment released a report on the state of our waterways.

It makes for sobering reading.

The report states that New Zealand has experienced one of the world’s highest rates of agricultural land intensification over recent decades.

Nitrogen pollution is getting worse at more than half of the rivers monitored in New Zealand.  Leaching of this pollutant from agricultural soils has increased 29 percent between 1990 and 2012.

Nitrogen pollution degrades waterway health and at very high concentrations makes water dangerous for people to drink.

“Greenpeace campaigner Genevieve Toop says: “This report outlines what many others have done before it, that New Zealand's once pristine freshwater is now in crisis.”

“Instead of tackling this human and environmental health issue the Government is using taxpayers’ money to cause even more devastation to our waterways.”

The Government has set aside $480 million to subsidise irrigation schemes through its Irrigation Acceleration Fund, and Crown Irrigation Investments Ltd.

“The Government is incentivising huge irrigation schemes which will be used to run more dairy cows. More cows mean more water pollution”

“Industrial dairying and freshwater are on a head-on collision course and Government-funded irrigation schemes are accelerating the crash.” says Toop.

The report also shows that freshwater pollution in urban catchments also needs attention.

But it noted that urban land covers less than 1 percent of New Zealand, while pastoral land covers about 40 percent.

A report from the OECD released last month advised the Government to review its support for irrigation stating that their “financial support to irrigation projects indirectly encourages intensification of agriculture, which is likely to further increase pressures on freshwater resources.”

“Despite the OECD’s warning the Prime Minister went to Canterbury last week to cut the ribbon on stage two of an enormous irrigation scheme.”

The Central Plains Irrigation scheme will expand intensive dairying and it’s predicted to leach hundreds of tonnes of nitrogen into the already polluted waterways in Canterbury.

“Stage one of this foolhardy scheme was originally opened by former PM John Key two years before. It shows that despite a rising tide of public concern the Government is pressing ahead with its plans to sacrifice our rivers for more industrial dairying.”

“Any Government which was serious about responding to the freshwater crisis would immediately scrap the irrigation fund and reduce the dairy herd.”