On Campbell Live this evening the plight of the Waituna Lagoon was highlighted. Nitrogen and phospherus are washing into the lagoon at ever growing levels and a rapid decline of water quality has been revealed and delicate, but important indicator plants are dying. The $8.8 million that the Greens got put into the 2007 budget to protect wetland areas has been largely spent (the money will cease next year) on useful partnerships with landowners and some concentrated scientific research. The rapid increase in dairying in Southland, and around the Waituna, has accompanied a similar increase in water pollution and scientists have now determined that the lagoon is poised at the point of flipping. It has happened to many other Lakes and lagoons in New Zealand and now it is about to happen to the Waituna, our most important and internationally regarded wetland.
Flipping is when a body of water shifts from a clean environment supporting a large range of plants and animals to a turgid, dead, algae ridden mess where little life can be supported. Once flipping has occurred it is highly expensive and near impossible to restore an area back to what it was. The time period predicted for this to happen is not specific, it could be weeks or months or could happen after one sizable storm.
At the same time all this has been publicly revealed through a lot of media attention, Environment Southland discovered around half the dairy farmers assessed over recent months have been seriously breaching effluent levels on their farms. Photos have been published showing paddocks awash with effluent.
Dr Tim Mackle, CEO of DairyNZ, was interviewed and what we heard sounded similar to a climate change denier. He claimed that the science was inconclusive and we need more, we just need to work on getting farmers on board and that things weren't that bad when it is only about 11% of farmers overall who aren't compliant (remembering of course that the current regulations are much softer than they should be).
On DairyNZ's website Dr Mackle is tasked with:
"ensuring that the DairyNZ purpose is fulfilled - to secure and enhance the profitability, sustainability and competitiveness of New Zealand dairy farming."
I think he is doing very well with enhancing profitability but he really needs to get a grip on what sustainability really means. The industry is dependent on clean water and it takes 1000 litres of water to make 1 litre of milk, so isn't that water kind of important? The future of the Waituna lagoon is now based on how much the dairy industry really values their most important resource (I wonder how much they currently pay for its use and care?).