BayBuzz recently sponsored a public forum on water issues in the Bay. A bit over 200 people attended, and 107 of those completed a survey asking their opinion on a number of water issues and policies.

I do not represent this as a scientific sampling of Bay citizens. Although the forum was widely advertised and anyone could have come, it’s likely that people with concerns were more likely to attend. That said, the results reported below send an unmistakable signal to our local water policymakers … chiefly the Regional Council.

Without question, there is a sizable, upset and energized group of voters in the Bay, who believe that our waterways are in poor shape, that our Regional Council isn’t doing a good job of managing our water, that farming is the major cause of deteriorating water quality, and that tougher measures need to be taken to improve water quality.

We’ve already reported that when asked to rate the water quality in our region’s rivers, 77% of forum respondents said poor, 13% adequate, 3% good, 7% don’t know. And asked to rate our Regional Council’s performance of water management functions, 76% said poor, 14% adequate, 2% good, 8% don’t know.

So what to do?

The group at the forum clearly sees that it is what happens on land that determines the quality of our water. Given a list of seven possible causes of freshwater damage in our region, 61% listed farming as the #1 cause. Next closest was sewage and stormwater dumping, cited by 22% as their first choice.

As it happens, our Regional Council is loathe to do anything resembling ‘regulation’ of what farmers do on their land, despite the now obvious consequences. But this does not square with the public. In fact, 79% of our respondents agree (55% strongly) that “regulations that are enforced are a good way to protect environmental values.” And 80% agree (60% strongly) that “on their own, voluntary/advocacy approaches by commercial water users do not protect the environment.”

The Regional Council typically says, above all, we support economic growth … protecting the environment comes second.

But again, the public disagrees … strongly.

Fully 80% disagree (60% strongly) with this statement: “We should accept some reduction in environmental values of some freshwater resources in order to enhance economic benefits from their use.” Further, 92% agree (88% strongly) that: “There should be no further significant pollution discharges into water.”

As the Regional Council moves down the path of championing a massive dam to enable irrigation of an additional 16,000 hectares in Central Hawke’s Bay, and decides what to do about CHB’s continued dumping of sewage into the Tukituki (or dairying runoff into the Taharua River or meatworks discharge into the Wairoa River), it might want to give some attention to this evidence of public sentiment.

If Regional Councillors don’t like the representativeness of these warning numbers, they should conduct a survey of their own — same questions (we drew these from Lincoln University’s super-credible biennial survey of environmental attitudes throughout NZ) put to a scientific sampling of the Bay’s voters. That’s a dare!

Tom Belford

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