17 Dec 2013

Farming viewed as harming water quality

7:56 am on 17 December 2013

A new survey has found farming continues to have a reputation as one of the main causes of declining freshwater quality.

Lincoln University has been surveying public perceptions of New Zealand's environment since 2000.

The latest Public Perceptions Environment survey found that while air, native bush and forests were considered to be in the best condition, the worst managed environments were perceived to be rivers, lakes, and groundwater.

More than half those surveyed regarded farming as being one of the three main causes of damage to freshwater quality through effluent and run-off. The others were sewage and stormwater and industrial activities.

One of the authors, Professor Ken Hughey of Lincoln University, says the negative perceptions about farming's impact on water quality have been growing.

He says the surveys have covered the issue from 2000 to 2013 and during that period the number of people who view farming as a major cause of damage to freshwater has doubled from around 26% to well over half of respondents.

Professor Hughey says survey respondents are aware that farming is not the only cause of damage to fresh water.

He says the survey showed that while fresh water was regarded as the biggest environmental management issue for New Zealand, at a global level people ranked climate change as the biggest issue.

Fish and Game says the latest report puts even more pressure on the dairy sector to earn a social licence to operate from the New Zealand public.

Chief executive Bryce Johnson says the survey shows New Zealanders have had enough of the dairy industry's adverse impact on fresh water resources.

But Federated Farmers believes the nation's perception of the environment, and farming's impact on it, is at a turning point.

National president Bruce Wills says much more effort is now going into managing the impacts of farming on water quality and the results of that are starting to show up in some areas.

He is confident that will lead to a turn around in public perception within the next few years.