William Rolleston challenges the many claims that point the finger of blame for the Havelock North water contamination and system failure; calls for science-based evidence gathering

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Federated Farmers urges the public to apply some good old-fashioned common sense and scrutinise the statements of activists as they push their anti-farming agendas in the wake of the Havelock North water-borne gastrointestinal disease outbreak.

Top of the list would be Dr Mike Joy’s statements on The Nation last Sunday where he said:

“’Central and local government had allowed massive intensification [of dairying] that had caused the problem’ when in fact the closest dairy farm we can find is some 40 kilometres away”, Federated Farmers president Dr William Rolleston says.

Or his statement that “animals have to come out of agriculture”.

The sanity of this statement for New Zealand can stand on its own merits.

In the context of this bacterial episode he said that ‘over time you find it deeper and deeper and deeper [in the groundwater]’ when it is known that as water penetrates the ground, bacteria are progressively filtered out and their survival diminishes.

Greenpeace have waded in with a rant about the Ruataniwha dam and the evils of water storage, but didn’t mention Timaru in South Canterbury derives a significant percentage of its town water supply from the successful Opuha Dam.

Others have used the episode to have a go at Overseer, claiming councils are relying on it to manage bacterial risk, when the computer programme models the flow of nutrients in the root zone of soil, not bacterial flow into underground aquifers.

Photographs in the media this week of beef cattle standing in the Tukituki river failed to mention the site was downstream from the Havelock North bores.

“Unless the theory of gravity has changed this is unlikely to be the source. It is worth noting that Waipukurau’s treated sewage water outflow is in the catchment above the bores but this somehow doesn’t fit the activist agenda,” Dr Rolleston says.

There is no question that animals and birds, both wild and on farm, create an opportunity for pathogens in the environment. So do humans for that matter.

Councils have a responsibility to assess and mitigate credible risks which exist in the environment when it comes to drinking water.

There has been a systems failure and 4,000 people got sick.

“The only way to re-establish confidence in the Havelock North water supply is with good factual, science-based evidence gathering. That’s what the councils, the Ministry of Health and the local community are trying to do.

“Distracting rants about building dams, wandering stock and activist theories do nothing to fix the system faster,” Dr Rolleston says.

William Rolleston is the President of Federated Farmers.