Mike Finlayson: Big decisions to make

By Mike Finlayson

Cr Mike Finlayson
Cr Mike Finlayson

The issue of water quality is looming large, locally and nationally. Labour has indicated a hard line on polluters, but it is not a simple issue.

Water is a big issue, whether it's how to handle too much in a flood or fairly allocate what may be a scarce resource in the future.

In Kaitaia we have a big decision to make about what level of flood protection we want for the town.

In 1958 the Awanui River burst its banks and sent enough water through the town make it look like Edgecumbe or Houston. At our meeting last week staff outlined various options to prevent the "we have a problem" scenario occurring. Costing between around $8 and $18 million, these works represent a major step towards preventing loss of life and property damage.

Further north, the forthcoming application to draw considerable amounts of water from the aquifer to irrigate horticulture needs to be balanced around the needs of the wider community.

The issue of water quality is looming large, locally and nationally. Labour has indicated a hard line on polluters, but it is not a simple issue.

Problems arise from both town and country. Northland's town wastewater systems are often overloaded, and many need upgrading. But my feeling is that it is better to spend the money on upgrades than having the NRC take the FNDC to court over non-compliance, the latter only benefiting lawyers while ratepayers foot the bill.

Central government needs to get realistic about the costs and help support district councils to upgrade infrastructure. We also need to look for more effective solutions, especially with smaller schemes.

NRC planners are helping farmers reduce runoff into streams and rivers. It's not just the effluent and nitrogen/phosphorous. Sedimentation is by far the most challenging issue.

An estimated 750,000 tonnes of sediment ends up in the Kaipara each year, smothering the snapper nursery, among other things, and around 380,000 tonnes in the much smaller Mangonui Harbour. Riparian fencing and plantings, combined with gully erosion mitigation (poplar and willow plantings), may reduce loading by 20 per cent, but that's not nearly good enough if we are to protect our soil, waterways and harbours.

We need to look at how we can reduce pastoral and forestry sediment runoff. Soil husbandry that grows microbial life is the key to 'sticky soil,' that not only reduces sediment runoff but sequesters carbon, produces deeper topsoil with plenty of worms to aerate the soil and deeper-rooting grasses that are more drought-resistant.

Rather than go down the GE ryegrass path, where we will have product that no one will want to buy, NZ Inc needs to strive for the top end of the market with biological or organic production that returns a premium to farmers.

We have quite a way to go before we can honestly claim the '100 per cent Pure' marketing slogan, but when we get there our agricultural products will have the environmental integrity that will put them at the top of the value chain.

(These are my personal views, and not necessarily those of the NRC).

mikef@nrc.govt.nz

- Northland Age

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