“It’s upsetting for farmers. We feel there’s a big divide between town and country – how did it get to this?” Matakanui Station owner Andrew Paterson lamented.
In response to Labour’s proposed water tax, Mr Paterson posted a video online challenging farmers around the country to test the water quality of streams on their properties. He said farmers were being unfairly blamed for poor water quality, but townspeople needed to take responsibility, too.
Along with testing his own streams, Mr Paterson began testing the Omakau waste water outfall, which is pumped into the Manuherikia River. His findings revealed contamination from the town site reached far greater levels than what farmers were allowed to discharge.
E. coli levels from Omakau were 500% higher than what farmers were allowed to discharge into the river, he said, while ammonium nitrate levels were 4380% higher and dissolved reactive phosphate 520% higher.
Giardia had previously been detected, too, he said.
“My concern is what’s coming out of the town.
“I decided to show it’s not just the farmers.
“In fact, the town people are just as much, if not more, to blame.”
His video was posted online less than three weeks ago and has already had about 48,000 views.
The proposed water tax, which would introduce a royalty for farmers using water for irrigation, would cost him almost $100,000 a year, he said, while fencing streams on his property would add another $1million to costs.
“It’s had quite a lot of views. What I’m trying to show is our water isn’t as bad as it’s made out to be.
“I want to show that water tax is the wrong sort of tax – it should be a pollution tax or sewerage tax.
“Towns should look in their backyards first.”
His operation had already spent about $2million installing spray irrigation systems, which were recommended to improve the efficiency of water use, he said.
“The ORC is telling us we’re doing the right thing by going to spray irrigation.
“To then turn around and tax us after doing what we’ve been asked is extremely unfair.
“If the valley is water-taxed it’s aimed at the wrong people.”
In a bid to put his money – or water – where his mouth was, Mr Paterson sampled water from Ned’s Creek at the bottom of his property which carries 20,000 sheep, 1000 cattle, and 230 hectares of spray irrigation which are farmed intensively.
All streams on his property had water that was drinkable, he said, and he called on other farmers to prove the water quality of their operations.
“It’s how you manage it and it’s how you farm it.”
Greater transparency surrounding town water pollution was needed, as well as discussions drawing on scientific facts.
He recently presented his findings at A Civil Conversation follow-up event, and said people were surprised to learn farming was not the only contributing factor to water pollution.
“The reality is how do we turn that into something constructive.
“It’s actually everyone who’s responsible for the water quality of the Manuherikia and the Clutha, not just the farmers.
He planned to fund monthly testing at three or four sites around his property, with tests to be conducted by an independent company.
“A lot of that is to prove that we are doing the right thing.”