Since late 2009 the Regional Council has been working with a stakeholders group to development an ecologically sound approach to land management around the Taharua and upper Mohaka catchment. In bureacrat-speak, the objective is to secure: “Stakeholder agreement of provisional catchment management objectives and nutrient targets, informed by robust science and the full range of community values.”
We lay people can only hope that means: Put an end to dairy farmers in the Taharua catchment polluting our rivers!
Alongside this engagement process, a program of scientific monitoring and analysis is taking place. This work shows that nutrient levels have indeed been rising in both surface and groundwater. Here are some observations from a report to be delivered Wednesday to the Environmental Management Committee of the Regional Council:
Shallow groundwater has elevated levels of nitrate (median 8.3 mg/l, range 4 mg/l to 12 mg/l).
Deep groundwater nitrate ranges from <0.002 mg/l to 1.9 mg/l and is not considered elevated.
The two shallow bores closest to the Mohaka confluence show increasing nitrate concentrations with time (increasing trend). Surface water quality of the Taharua River continues to increase in nitrate, with concentrations at the central Twin Culverts site approaching 4 mg/l. The lower site at Poronui station, although continuing to increase, is less than 2 mg/l. Typical nitrate levels in upper river sites are less than 0.1 mg/l.
The report continues:
Food value and water clarity is optimal for trout upstream of the Taharua confluence.
Food value and water clarity is less than optimal for trout downstream of the Taharua confluence resulting in smaller trout. This supports the anecdotal evidence Council has received of a reduced fishery within the Taharua River and in the Mohaka downstream of the confluence with the Taharua.
Lesson #1: Believe the fishermen. The same lesson applies to the Tukituki.
Then the report says:
Relationships with catchment landowners and farm managers are constructive, despite the instability of recent receiverships and ownership/personnel changes. New owners are actively involved in the TSG [Ed: stakeholders group], however one of the landowners has lodged a pre- application that would seem to go against good practice and existing consent requirements.
Lesson #2: No matter what constructive engagement or “education” is offered, some farmers just don’t (won’t) get it. Hopefully the Regional Council will ultimately set the bar at the most ecologically-protective level, not at some “most acceptable to the most people” lowest common denominator level.
Finally, the report says:
A summary of current understanding of the Taharua problem and the evolution in understanding over the past 10 years is being finalised.
Ten years! To rouse the Council to action on the Taharua, it took Iain Maxwell (then) of Fish & Game to shoot underwater video of the polluted Taharua, which BayBuzz published online in August 2009 (see here), supported by Kathy Webb then writing in the Dominion Post (see here), and constant agitation by Councillor Liz Remmerswaal (here, for example). Fishermen had been complaining for years. Even MPs Tremain and Foss evidenced concern before the Regional Council, as BayBuzz reported here way back in December 2007.
Who says the Regional Council has been slow off the mark on this one?!