The Regional Council has released its latest State of the Environment Report (2004-2008).
Lots of data here, well-presented, with a variety of technical reports available too.
Too much to summarise, but here are some observations and factoids that caught my attention:
- 20% of the region is at risk of significant erosion.
- There is a high risk of wind erosion of soils across most of the region’s cropping land as conservation tillage appears to be adopted on only 10-15% of the cropping land.
- Soil structure is often degraded on cropping land (and is likely to continue to decline), and soil compaction is a significant problem under intensive bull beef farming systems.
- Over the last five years, Council has assisted the conversion of over 20,000 hectares to more sustainable use.
- Intensive land use — vineyards, cropping, orchards, dairying — occupies a bit less than 50,000 hectares (out of about 1.4 million hectares), and this represents a 32% increase over the last five years.
- Heavy metal levels monitored in agricultural soils around the region are generally well within environmental guidelines, with a few exceptions involving copper and zinc.
- The majority of regionally significant wetlands monitored are currently in poor to moderate condition.
- Mean river flows have been below the long term mean for the past five years.
- Nineteen of 82 sites (23%) monitored for water quality showed deterioration in one or more variables.
- Of 65 sites monitored for health of aquatic ecology, 19 sites (29%) showed poor compliance with environmental guidelines.
- When it comes to compliance with environmental guidelines, lowland stretches of HB rivers are significantly worse off than hill country stretches.
- During February 2009, 34% of the Heretaunga and Ruataniwha groundwater monitoring sites recorded the lowest water levels in 15 years of record; 45% of the sites had below normal water levels.
- 75% of groundwater permits issued by the HBRC are for irrigation for the pastoral agriculture, horticulture and viticulture sectors; 13% is for drinking water supply.
- Groundwater quality in the region is “generally good.”
- Most groundwater data collected to date is less than 15 years old. (I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t give me a whole lot of confidence when critical issues like the lag time before today’s pollutants begin to register, or the re-charge rate of our aquifers, are at stake.)
- PM10 (small particulates) is the most significant air quality issue in the region, arising mostly from woodburners; roadside carbon monoxide and nitrogen dioxide levels are well within guidelines; arsenic concentrations in Hastings exceed guidelines (could be linked to burning treated wood).
- Ahuriri estuarine sediments analysed for copper and zinc were higher than other estuarine site around NZ.
- Analysis of water quality at the region’s beaches indicates that most have stayed the same over time; none have worsened. Some nutrient levels are high in our coastal waters, and this is subject to further data collection and analysis.
So, one can take a glass half-empty or glass half-full perspective on all this. I leave it to you. Get the report and read it.
However, you can bet that the spin of old-timers on the Council will be … “It could have been worse!”
P.S. Of course, not to be outdone, Hastings and Napier Councils have their own state of the environment reports. Hopefully they’ll be reasonably consistent. But that’s a different matter.