Dairy industry says it's cleaning up its act

New Zealand's dairy sector says its latest report into the health of waterways shows farmers are cleaning up their act, but it's also been revealed a stream near one of the country's most famous springs is contaminated by runoff.

Fish Creek in the Tasman District runs into the same catchment as the famous Te Waikoropupu spring, the creek is already fragile and recent tests have shown heavy contamination from farm runoff.

"It's disgusting what's going on, huge amounts of pollution pouring into the streams," Save Our Springs co-ordinator Kevin Moran says.

Tasman District Council says the levels found are typical of run off from pasture throughout New Zealand, and will reduce to a swimmable level within days, and it's working with farmers to improve waterways.

The dairy industry has released new figures showing farmers are doing more.

Their report monitored 11000 farms and shows:

  • 97.2 percent of waterways are now protected from dairy cattle (about 26,200kms of fencing)
  • More than 99 percent of stock crossing points are now bridged
  • 5.2 percent of farmers are still not properly controlling effluent.

DairyNZ CEO Tim Mackle says the progress is real.

"We're definitely part of the problem and we're trying to lead the way with solutions," he says.

But now the focus is turning to what can't be seen.

Fencing can't stop nitrates and phosphates from urine and fertiliser leach into the waterways, contaminating the water and robbing it of life-sustaining oxygen.

"We've got to drive people thinking about the nutrients, how is it that I'm leaching this much, how can I halve that? That's what we've got to do and it is harder, there's no question it's harder but we've to do it," Forest and Bird manager Kevin Hackwell says.

Green MP Eugenie Sage says fencing is working but water quality's still declining.

"If we are going to reduce nutrient pollution we need to look at cow numbers across the country. Six-point-six million is too many."

The report found there's been an increase in farmers with nutrient management plans, and DairyNZ says it believes it can improve water standards and achieve their targets without dropping cattle numbers.