Main content area

Linkages between land management activities and stream water quality in a border dyke-irrigated pastoral catchment

Monaghan, R.M., Carey, P.L., Wilcock, R.J., Drewry, J.J., Houlbrooke, D.J., Quinn, J.M., Thorrold, B.S.
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2009 v.129 no.1-3 pp. 201-211
agricultural watersheds, land management, environmental protection, pastoralism, farm profitability, streams, water quality, water pollution, irrigation canals, flood irrigation, irrigated farming, agricultural runoff, sediment yield, nitrogen, phosphorus, bacterial contamination, New Zealand
This paper describes key linkages between land management activities and stream water quality for a 5230ha catchment used for intensive pastoral agriculture in southern New Zealand. Due to low annual rainfall and the wide coverage of soils with low available water-holding capacities, flood irrigation of the 2400ha of flat land within the catchment is an important feature impacting on farm business profitability and stream health. Water quality variables and nutrient and sediment yield estimates are reported for a four-year period. This monitoring shows that some improvement in farm environmental performances would generally be desirable, with stream concentrations of nutrients (N and P), sediment and faecal bacteria regularly exceeding guidelines recommended for surface waters. Field measurements, farm management surveys and farm systems modelling have identified some land management practices that appear to be key sources of many of these pollutants. Border dyke irrigation runoff has a potentially large effect on a range of water quality parameters, due to both the excessive stream flows generated by over-watering and the entrainment of P, N and faecal bacteria in this flow as it passes from land to stream. Stock access to some of the remaining un-fenced lengths of the stream was also recognised as an important land management practice that needed to be addressed if some of the key catchment values identified by stakeholders, such as maintaining a healthy trout fishery and a stream suitable for recreational use, were to be protected. Assessments of the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of a number of potential mitigation practices identified that managements which targeted reducing irrigation runoff (e.g. by installing bunds or using appropriate watering times) and fencing and planting riparian margins showed the greatest potential to meet these key values with least cost to farm businesses. Other farm practices were also identified that incurred nil or minimal cost while also delivering small or moderate benefits to stream water quality.