The opposition Labour Party wants commercial water use taxed at one to two cents a cubic metre, with the money raised going towards cleaning up degraded rivers, lakes and streams.
Federated Farmers, horticulture growers and the ruling National Party have opposed the idea, saying it would cause fruit and vegetable prices to soar.
Fish & Game NZ chief executive Bryce Johnson said it was time that the agricultural sector and its supporters started listening to the growing anger over deteriorating water quality.
“People are fed up. They want to be able to swim, fish and gather food from their rivers, and the agricultural industry needs to start listening, not scaremongering and fighting efforts to restore water quality,” he said.
But Federated Farmers vice-president Andrew Hoggard said that if the proposed tax was intended to improve water quality, it was an exceptionally poor way of achieving that goal.
“I doubt it’ll even remotely have an impact. Irrigation NZ put out a list showing where the irrigation occurs and where the unswimmable rivers are. There is no correlation between them. This is just a tax on some farmers because it sounds good, but it completely fails the fairness test,” he told Farmer’s Weekly.
He said that farmers were already doing their part to ensure that all rivers and waterways could be swum in.
“This doesn’t mean we’re solely responsible for everything,” he added.
Hoggard owns a 300ha dairy farm with 6km of river frontage.
“The fact that the Oroua River is swimmable below my farm, but not below the Fielding sewage treatment plant, is not my problem to solve,” he said.
He added that the water quality on his farm was good and he had photographs of his children swimming in the river to prove it.