Cows in Lake Ellesmere

Po(o)llution of New Zealand's dirtiest lake

Living near Christchurch, we often cycle on the Little River Rail Trail because it is one of the few safe cycleways where you cannot be hit by cars and left lying on the roadside. Since the massive earthquakes that hit our region in 2011 we cycle even more because many walking and hiking tracks in the Port Hills have been closed due to rockfall hazards.

Over the years we have seen cows standing in and on the edges of Lake Ellesmere which is New Zealand's most po(o)lluted lake thanks to grazing stock and run-off from dairy farming. 
 
When I spotted them again in mid March 2012 I had enough, and did not only photograph them but also send the photos to Environment Canterbury (ECan), Christchurch City Council, Ngai Tahu, etc., and also to The Press. Letters to the Editor are never enough when such serious breaches of the rules occur, so I thought I go a step further.
 
The investigation has now been completed by ECan and led to a satisfactory result, as a media release further down shows. But be assured, I will stay vigilant. (03.04.2012)
 
 
That's the story from 17 March 2012:

Last August an ambitious NZ$ 12 million plan to restore the water quality of Lake Ellesmere has been announced. Environment Minister Nick Smith said it would be one of biggest lake clean-up operations in New Zealand's history.

The Press congratulated those involved – including the Government, Ngai Tahu, Fonterra, the Selwyn District Council and Environment Canterbury – for the initiative.

In the Sunday Star Times Federated Farmers president Bruce Wills keeps on telling us in his own column how much progress is being made by farmers, well not by cleaning up their mess, but by at least complying to the rules. Some good farmers even fence their paddocks off waterways and plant riparian protection.

No such effort can be observed on the shores of Lake Ellesmere which is New Zealand’s most po(o)lluted lake. The praised cleaning effort was marred by a Government-sponsored killing spree of Canada geese carried out by farmers who left the dead animals rotting in the lake. And the bad practice of the only farmer allowed grazing cattle on the lake’s shores – made possible by a shonky deal brokered by Conservation Minister Kate Wilkinson and then Agriculture Minister David Carter – has not stopped at all.
 
I have photographed cows standing in the lake from the Little River Rail Trail various times. I have sent photos to The Press in the past but apart from demonstrating interest and keeping me busy with asking for coordinates of the “crime scene”, the disgusting disregard of this farmer for the environment has never been exposed.
 
Who is doing what to stop this farmer at Lake Ellesmere who so blatantly and provocatively ignores the rules? This man ridicules all the people and organisations who make an effort to reverse the horrific effect decades of dairy and cattle farming have had on the lake.
 
What are all these organisations involved in the clean-up of the lake doing to stop this farmer whose lease for grazing cattle should already have expired several years ago? How can the Government allow such dirty practices by individuals and then charge the taxpayer for the clean-up? New Zealand surely needs farming but definitely not such low-life-farmers like the guy at Lake Ellesmere.
 
 
ECan's response and media release from 02.04.2012:
 
Investigation into stock in Te Waihora completed
Environment Canterbury reported today that it had completed an investigation into cows that were recently photographed grazing in Te Waihora / Lake Ellesmere. 

RMA Monitoring and Compliance Manager Brett Aldridge said while the discovery was disappointing and stock in waterways is an issue Environment Canterbury always takes very seriously, it was pleasing that the landowner had co-operated fully. 

“The photos we received weren’t sufficient to prove discharge and damage to the lake bed in the form of pugging or change of water clarity and consequently breach of the rules,” Mr Aldridge said. “The property in question has now been destocked pending sale. We will meet the new owner to make sure they are fully aware of their obligations regarding stock access to water.” 

Brett Aldridge said Environment Canterbury would be working with other landowners in the area to make sure stock are away from water and that the landowners understood the implications of not meeting their obligations. 

“Stock in waterways is something we’re very serious about and Te Waihora is a particularly sensitive environment in this regard,” Mr Aldridge said. “There are strong rules in our regional plan prohibiting stock in natural waterways if there are any significant adverse effects, and from June this year all intensively farmed stock will be prohibited from natural waterways. 

“While our preference is to work with landowners, infringement fines for discharges to water are $750 and prosecutions can attract significantly higher penalties. We will have no hesitation in using these tools to provide deterrence to landowners where necessary and appropriate. 

“However, we can’t be everywhere. We also need members of the community to be our eyes and ears on the ground. We always welcome any information that will point us towards specific pressure points and landowners who might need help in meeting their obligations.

“The aim of the regulations is to safeguard and improve water quality, so compliance is extremely important,” Mr Aldridge said. “Environment Canterbury is very proactive about this. Over the next five years, for example, we will be working with Ngāi Tahu, DoC, lake edge landowners, Selwyn District Council and Christchurch City Council to make sure all stock around the lake is managed to reduce the impact on wetlands and the lake, and meet all compliance requirements.”
 
 
More information on the Pollution Hotline:
 
 
 
 
The response
 
I was impressed - but also amused to a certain extent - with the response to my photos which were published in The Press, and with the quick reaction of ECan in particular. They kept me in the loop about their investigation which was concluded within two weeks.
 
The only party I wrote to and which did not respond was - are we surprised? - Federated Farmers. Their president Bruce Wills is obviously too busy writing glowing articles for the Sunday Star Times about the exemplary work of farmers - while he and the rest of New Zealanders know that by far not all, but far too many farmers do not comply to the regulations.
 
See ECan's media release at the bottom of the page, with the best news being that the property has been destocked pending sale and that the new owners will be made aware of the obligations regarding stock access to water. ECan will also be working with other landowners in the area to make clear that stock have to stay away from water. I really wonder what some farmers would not understand about it.
 
What's funny about the ECan investigation is that they say the photos are not enough evidence to prove that the cows po(o)lluted the lake, so the non-compliant owner gets away with a slap on the wrist with a wet bus ticket, no fine, no warning, just ridiculous.
 
So you would need to illegally invade a farmer's property and immediately take a water sample when the poo drops into the lake! Or better: the farmer would call ECan and tell them when he would take his cows near the lake, so ECan can arrive in time to take water samples.
 
If the farmer is not prosecuted he gets away with a NZ$ 750 fine.
 
Keep your eyes open and inform ECan immediately when you see stock in or near waterways. The numbers of the
pollution hotline are:
(03) 366 4663 and
(0800) 76 55 88.
 
 

 
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