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!”

Tom Belford

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.

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