It’s been a tough few weeks for think-big irrigation and industrial agriculture.

As a bit of background for those not familiar with plans for even more industrial dairying around New Zealand - the Government is throwing over half a billion dollars of public money at large-scale irrigation schemes (including the Ruataniwha Dam). These schemes will enable the expansion of industrial style dairy farming, causing huge pollution in our waterways.

But the plan’s hit several snags in recent weeks.

In what is the worst water-borne disease outbreak in New Zealand history, over 5,000 people fell ill in Havelock North due to drinking water from their taps. The cause was likely a ruminant farm animal. 

Last night hundreds of people turned out to a public meeting over the crisis - venting their anger and frustration that something like this could happen in “clean green” New Zealand.

Then earlier today, the Court of Appeal released its decision on a land swap DOC had done in the Hawke’s Bay to make way for the Ruataniwha dam (it swapped specially protected Ruahine Forest Park land by downgrading its status). The court ruled in favour of Forest and Bird and found DOC’s action to be unlawful.

Add to that the revelation that Christchurch's drinking water has been contaminated with E coli 125 times in the past four years.  Christchurch is in Canterbury, the region where around 65% of the country’s irrigation takes place and where mass conversions to intensive, industrial dairying have taken place.  You start to see a picture emerging.

Industrial dairying and big irrigation is trashing our waterways.  And the very worst thing we could do now is build more giant irrigation schemes that will compound the problem.

Luckily, irrigation poster child - the Ruataniwha Dam - looks dead in the dirty water.

The gastro outbreak, resulting public anger and the Court of Appeal’s decision are all major blows for the scheme. It’s very difficult to see how the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council can now green light the dam, especially just one month out for the local elections. Quite simply, the council does not have the mandate. 

The writing is truly on the wall for a scheme that should never have been put on the table in the first place.  

It’s time to ditch the dam plan for good, turn our backs on industrial agriculture and make space for a new era of ecological farming which looks after our land, our people and our water.