31 Aug 2016

Farmers reject blame over water contamination

10:13 am on 31 August 2016

Federated Farmers has hit back at claims intensive agriculture may be to blame for the contamination of Havelock North's water supply.

Cows by the Tukituki River

Cows seen near the Tukituki River in Hawke's Bay. Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

Authorities are still trying to pinpoint the exact cause of the campylobacter contamination, that has affected 5000 people, but earlier tests showed the source was a ruminant animal.

But Federated Farmers president William Rolleston said the area near the aquifer was mostly lifestyle blocks and orchards.

He said people needed to take a step back from the speculation.

"We all contribute to bacteria in the environment, birds do, humans do and so do farm animals.

"Last week we saw a crescendo of finger pointing at agriculture, we heard that this was because of intensive dairy farms and the closest dairy farm we can find is 40 kilometres away."

William Rolleston

William Rolleston says farmers have spent $1 billion fencing rivers over the past decade. Photo: Supplied

Mr Rolleston said while the indications did point to a four-legged animal as the source of contamination, that didn't mean intensive agriculture was to blame.

He said the aquifer in question was a shallow aquifer, which had a greater risk of having its seals breached.

"We're not saying that agriculture doesn't create a risk, but those are the risks that the council needs to actually take cognisance of and mitigate."

Last week the Green Party said any inquiry into the Havelock North water contamination should look at the role of intensive agriculture.

Mr Rolleston admitted agriculture was a risk for water.

"We're not denying that and farmers have been up to the task. We've spent a billion dollars in the last decade fencing rivers and we're playing our part."

Mr Rolleston said fencing waterways to prevent livestock getting into them wasn't always practical.

"There will always be photographs available of cattle standing in water as long as we have cattle in New Zealand because they're in the high country.

"Of course we need to fence off rivers down on the plains etcetera, but to fence up every river up every hill isn't practical and wouldn't serve the purpose of actually helping water quality."