Greenpeace warns more algal blooms to come with planned Hurunui irrigation dams

Press release - January 12, 2017
Greenpeace warns that the toxic algal bloom and public health warning currently present on the Hurunui River will only become more frequent if the Hurunui Irrigation dams go ahead.

Yesterday, following the finding of high levels of a potentially toxic algae in the Hurunui River the Canterbury District Health Board issued a health warning directing people and animals to avoid the river at SH7 until the health warning has been lifted.

Responding to the health warning Greenpeace campaigner Genevieve Toop said “ Algal blooms are caused by high levels of nitrogen and phosphorous in the waterway, and modelling in the Hurunui river catchment shows that industrial dairying leaks the highest levels of these pollutants into the local waterways out of any other land use” (1)

“We can expect more algal blooms and health warnings like this if the Hurunui irrigation dams go ahead as they will take huge amounts of water from iconic rivers to drive more industrial dairying and therefore more water pollution in the catchment“

The assessment of environmental effects of the scheme assumed that the entire irrigated area would be used for dairying and the company's economic report confirmed that dairy will be the dominant land use. (2) (3)  The additional nitrogen pollution is predicted to increase dramatically if the scheme goes ahead. (4)

The Government has set aside $480 million taxpayer dollars for think-big irrigation schemes throughout the country and have given the Hurunui dams around $4 million so far. (2)

Greenpeace has labeled the Government continued use of taxpayer dollars to prop up irrigation schemes and the dairy industry’s plans to increase herd numbers as “irresponsible”.

“The Government is putting the expansion of industrial dairying before people’s health and the health of our rivers, while the dairy industry is content to fiddle around with trees on riverbanks while ramping up the national dairy herd to record numbers”

“It’s simple, more cows means more pollution and more algae choking up our rivers and lakes.  Planting riverbanks is great but it is simply not enough.”

“If we are going to save our rivers and lakes we need to ditch plans for irrigation schemes, decrease cow numbers and transition to ecological farming, without delay.”

Ecological farming is an innovative model of farming that uses diversity and natural systems to boost productivity without the need for destructive chemical fertilisers, big irrigation and other industrial methods.

Toop said “Instead of throwing money at these think big schemes the Government should instead be supporting farmers to transition from industrial dairying to ecological farming which looks after our land, our water and our health.”