On May 27th I visited the Lower Kaituna River and the Ongatoro/Maketu Estuary, just to the east of Tauranga. I met up with Ray Bushell and Maria Horne from Te Arawa, and Julian Fitter, a local conservationist.
They are trying to save the Maketu Estuary and the Kaituna River, which are highly degraded ecosystems.
The Kaituna River flowed through the Maketu Estuary until the 1950s and it was a thriving food basket. Then a canal was cut so that the Kaituna was diverted to the sea before it got to the Estuary, and only a trickle now goes through the Estuary. This was in order to lower water levels upstream and stop the flooding of a few farms near the Estuary during high flow events.
The result is that the Estuary is now in very poor shape with the collapse of the kaimoana/ kai awa, ecology, water quality and flows. The local community has lost a valuable community asset. This went alongside the draining of the wetlands so that out of the original 6100 ha of freshwater wetlands, there is only 92ha wetlands remaining – yep that’s right, we’re down to the last 1.5%.
A plan has been drawn up to restore at least some proportion of the flow from the river through the estuary, but as of yet there has been no action.
The problem is made worse by the terrible quality of water coming down the Kaituna River – something I blogged about previously. Nitrate levels have been increasing at about 2% per year since 1990. About a third of the nitrogen in the river comes from Lake Rotorua via the Ohau Channel but the rest comes from the lower catchment of the river – mostly intensive agriculture but also sewerage and meat works.
And if you want to know why there is so much pollution coming in have a look at this:
This is dairy farming, in what used to be wetlands, just near the estuary and the river.
As you can see dairy cows are being farmed in the mud right next to the drainage ditches. There are no fences and clearly the cows have been right in the water. You can spot some of the dairy beasts in this shot:
Here you can see the large algal blooms caused by the huge nutrient loads:
And if you follow this series of drains, this is where they end up draining into the Kaituna River:
But not to worry, as the sign next to this drain says, the water is perfectly safe to swim in:
Good to know the district council is on the job – I’ll get my bathers!
Of course all of these activities are entirely unconsented - because they don’t need a consent, they are permitted activities under the RMA. Fed Farmers and Dairy NZ are fighting tooth and nail to ensure that these practices continue to be unregulated. The National Party’s Blue Green Minister for the Environment helpfully watered down the draft National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management so that these activities continue to not need a consent to do this kind of environmental vandalism – in fact it is approved environmental vandalism.
So when you hear about all those serious non-compliance issues, it is just the dairy shed effluent that is the issue – ie just the faeces, urine and wash-water coming out of the dairy shed at milking time. And dairy shed effluent only makes up 10% of the nutrient load going through one of these outdoor industrial dairy factories (aka farms).
But I hear you say, at least there are good rules around dairy shed effluent. Think again. Here is a dairy shed effluent pit that is about 20m from the Kaituna River.
It is full of effluent and is simply a hole dug into the ground, there was no waterproof liner. The pollution laden water is draining through the groundwater directly into the river. So far as we are aware, this is a complying dairy shed effluent system.
Finally, I had enough and headed off to give a talk to Whakatane Greypower, and here’s one of the sights by the side of the highway:
This is the kind of freedom that Fed Farmers and Dairy NZ are fighting to protect – the freedom for every dairy corporation in the country to shit in our rivers.