Mit Reklaw’s Rate of Nitrate

Seems Ashburton folk aren’t into drinking poison.

The aforementioned toxin takes the form of nitrate and has been found in drinking water throughout Mid Canterbury.

Reportedly it’s only ‘trace amounts’, but here’s the thing, when it comes to the health of newborns and pregnant women, trace amounts can be damaging…

Wait a minute. Stop. While I am a staunch supporter of the whole ‘let’s not poison our kids philosophy’, I reckon someone must have their facts confused. I happen to know that Ashburton and practically the entire Mid Canterbury region, draw their water from wells. I understand furthermore that water drawn from the earth, on account of soil’s natural filtering process, is indubitably of pristine quality..?

What if it wasn’t though? What if the dairy industry in Mid Canterbury had become intensive to the point that chemicals applied to farms’ surfaces were leaching into the earth; eventually finding their way into the water supply?

Fact. Nitrate has been discovered in over twenty Ashburton wells.

Have to admit, that does sound bad – sounds like the perfect opportunity for Canterbury Health Officials to do some scaremongering while at the same time, besmirching the nation’s favourite scapegoats, dairy farmers.

Fact. Nitrate has been discovered only in private, comparatively shallow wells; therefore Ashburton locals who take their water from the deeper municipal supply, need not be concerned.

That said, it’s still not good. Whichever way you perceive it, Mid Canterbury drinking water contains detectable levels of pollution.

Fact. The New Zealand drinking water contamination threshold is twice as strict as that of most other countries – what we might consider toxic, these other countries call refreshing.

Even so, as earlier stated it only takes a small amount of nitrate to affect the well-being of infants – depriving of oxygen the muscular systems in both born and unborn babies.

So how do we amend the issue?

Well. Federated Farmers maintain the intensification of farming in the area is not necessarily the sole cause of water pollution. While the addition of nitrogen-based fertiliser coupled with increased ground saturation appears the logical offender, run-off from the Ashburton freezing works is a likely cause also…

This is not so much amending the issue as it is shifting blame.

True enough. Bear with me. I am uncertain why the sky is blue, but I’m pretty sure nitrogen is what makes the grass green. During summer Mid Canterbury didn’t used to be green. It was more of a brown hue. It lacked water. Also fertility.

Then one day both deficits were met.


Now irrigation draws added nitrogen into the soil. Now the sky is blue and the grass grows green. Nowadays not only is Mid Canterbury dairy farming possible, it has become intrinsic to the New Zealand economy.

The obvious way to rectify this water pollution problem would be to stop, or at least regulate intensive dairy farming. Given that I don’t see this happening, perhaps chlorination is the answer because simply, it can’t work both ways.

Mid Canterbury cannot have fields of lush grass for its cows and unadulterated water in its taps.



Article by Mit Reklaw

Edited by Dear Ray Former

Photography by Polly Utante


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