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The Challenge Of Agricultural Pollution In Freshwater Systems: International Best Practice In Law And Policy And The Example Of New Zealand

Congress: 2015
Author(s): alexander gillespie (hamilton, New Zealand), alexander gillespie
waikato university1

Keyword(s): Sub-theme 10: Management of water resources,
AbstractSocieties have been solving fresh water pollution problems for over 150 years. The current problem, agricultural pollution is the fourth generation of fresh water pollution. The first generation of fresh-water pollution was sewage. The second was industrial pollution. The third was specific contaminants such as heavy metals or persistent organic pollutants. Most of the developing world are struggling with the first three generations of fresh-water pollution. Only the wealthy countries have largely left the first three generations behind, and progressed to the fourth-generation problem of fresh-water pollution. Although New Zealand has a faster growth rate in agricultural pollution than most, our trends are broadly consistent with other wealthy countries. Where we are very different to many other wealthy countries, especially in Europe, is that agricultural pollution of freshwater sources is being brought under control. In Europe, 70% of surface waters are improving in quality, together with 66% of groundwater. Although considerable progress is still required, their trends are going in the opposite direction to ours. The bad news is that New Zealand is not following the four steps proven to be successful elsewhere. First, the science around fresh-water pollution must be robust. This means the process must be inclusive of industry, governmental and non-governmental organisations. The science must be transparent, accessible, peer-reviewed and comprehensive. In Europe this is done via 31,000 monitoring stations for ground-water and 27,000 for surface water. This is not the case in New Zealand. Our scientific research is institutionally fragmented, patchy in application, and lacking agreement over what the best attributes to measure ecosystem health should be. Second, the polluter must pay. In all instances, those who create the problem, and especially those who financially benefit from creating the problem, must be at the forefront of responsibility. In New Zealand, despite record profits, the individuals causing agricultural pollution are often invisible when it comes to paying the costs for cleaning up the mess they cause. Rather, the direct economic costs have been passed onto other citizens. Currently, around $500 million of taxpayer money is used to clean up the freshwater lakes and rivers of New Zealand. Third, those who cause the problem must be publically identified, either directly or indirectly. Best practice overseas is through the placement of signs, detailing whether the public can drink, swim or eat food from the local water. If there are pollutants, these are spelt out, what the risks are, and most importantly, where these originate from. In as much as those causing the problem must be identified, so too should those trying to fix the problem. Specifically, those who take additional steps to make environmentally beneficial decisions, should benefit from government sponsored schemes, via which consumers reward those showing enhanced responsibility. The ideal here is a scheme which publically identifies the cleanest dairy practices, in as much as the government runs its programme on energy efficiency. Finally, differentiated legal limits must be set over what levels of agricultural pollutants are allowed to enter into the water-ways. In Europe, the way this has worked since 1991 has been identifying a bottom line, defined as 50 milligrams of nitrates in the surface or ground water. If the pollution is above this level, it becomes classified as a nitrate vulnerable zone. Over forty percent of Europe is now classified as such places. Within these areas, mandatory codes are compulsory, utilising actions such as limiting fertilizer application in terms of place, time, amount, minimum storage capacity for livestock waste and strict rules to control the spread of nutrients near water. If an area is particularly bad, the restrictions are higher. If an area is cleaner, voluntary targets still apply to keep it above a top-line, so that an incentive is not created to turn clean waters into dirty ones. This would be particularly important in New Zealand, whereby any toxicity levels for nitrates and other pollutants should operate within bands that aspire for 100% Pure, and the 'bottom line' does not become the target to descend to. Gillespie, A. (2012). Conservation, Biodiversity and International Law. Gillespie, A. (2014). International Environmental Law, Policy and Ethics. Gillespie A. (2005). Unsustainable Development in International Law.
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