Hydro stations, septic tanks affecting water quality

Farmers are being wrongly blamed for water quality issues while urban residents and the operators of hydro power stations escape scrutiny, says Vaughan Jones of Hamilton.

“Water is being discussed across the country, but without correcting the causes, just wrongly blaming farmers, never townies,” says Vaughan, who has been an agricultural consultant for 60 years, including experience internationally, and editor of grazinginfo.com, a 10-year-old website serving 520 members. 

Vaughan holds the Queen’s New Zealand Order of Merit for service to farmers, and Fonterra’s Certificate of Excellence awarded in 2016 and 2017 for “helping hundreds of his ‘GrazingInfo’ dairy farmer members produce finest quality milk, and helping Fonterra achieve its vision to be the international natural source of dairy nutrition”. 

In September 2016, Vaughan says polluted water entered the Waikato River just upstream of Fairfield Bridge. “If a farmer did the same, they would be fined up to $50,000 and closed down until fixed. I’ve been told by a person who saw it that in the brown water was that what looked like toilet paper. 

“Environment Waikato told me in 1995 that Hamilton needed four sediment ponds. There are still none while thousands have been built on farms at high costs to farmers. This is another example showing that rules for farmers are stricter than for townies. 

Sediment ponds

“Waikato Regional Council has forced some farmers to build sediment ponds, but they are negatives because of high costs, and because fresh effluent is of more value and causes less polluting when spread fresh, not months later during which time much has been lost into the air, polluting it, and reduced its fertilising value. In wet weather the solution is to spread it more thinly, which some are doing, rather than build sediment ponds.  

“The Waikato River is now said to have a stagnant water problem, and I agree, but that is because the Waikato River water is not aerated when it leaves its nine hydro dams. All countries I’ve researched aerate their used water and the surplus. New Zealand doesn’t.” 

The many comments made over the years about pollution in the Waikato River blame the farmers, but Vaughan says very little is caused by them. 

“Some have accused dairy farmers of polluting Lake Taupo so I asked those who complained how many dairy farms there were, and most said “about 50”. In fact, there are only five dairy farms, all obeying all the rules. 

Old septic tanks

“The first pollution in Lake Taupo is from the hundreds of old septic tanks. Environment Waikato told me in 2001 that they had not been checked and said that the large volume of water in the lake dilutes any bad effects. 

“After the Waikato River leaves Taupo, mercury, which is in the deep geothermal bore water which generated power at Wairakei, enters the river and is measurable. More mercury (a glue used in paper-making) is added from the Kinleith Paper Mill, so in Hamilton’s water there are 25ppm of mercury, 20 cadmium, 12 manganese and six aluminium. 

“The nine hydro power generators stagnate their dammed water and don’t aerate it as it leaves, so the hydro power authorities should fix them all, as done in other countries, even China” he says. 

For more information about Vaughan’s farming advice visit his website grazinginfo.com


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