Education Ministry blocks resource consent for fear of school’s water contamination

The Ministry for Education has opposed a resource consent application for a farm expansion in Southland, due to potential water contamination-related health risks to staff and students at a local school.

The applicant, Worldwide One Ltd, is seeking to increase its herd size by 260 cows on one of its five farms. The farm in question is located 2km upgradient of a rural primary school whose drinking water is sourced from a 15m deep bore.

The Ministry’s primary concern is the cumulative effect of nitrate levels in the groundwater supply, as well as of other contaminants such as E coli. In its submission, the Ministry cites groundwater samples collected within the vicinity of the applicant’s farm that show elevated nitrogen concentrations exceeding the Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand. It says there is also concern of the pathogen risk to the drinking supply of the school arising from the applicant’s operation.

In addition, it says the applicant has not addressed cumulative effects from other potential sources such as neighbouring farms or any lag time effects from the application of nutrients. There is no reference to additional monitoring that may be required or additional treatment or alternative sources of drinking water for the school in the application.

The applicant has argued the nitrogen load from the farm would decrease, not increase, based on the widely-used farm management software program Overseer. However the modelling software programme has drawn criticism from both farmers and scientists who warn that it has a margin of error as high as 30% and therefore cannot be relied on for accuracy.