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Pact signed to clean up dirty Manawatu

Published: 7:11PM Monday August 09, 2010

An agreement's been signed today to try and save the Manawatu river from its undesirable tag as one of the most polluted rivers in the Western world.

Local councils, freezing works and Fonterra all signed a voluntary agreeement to clean up the river, but Federated Farmers pulled out of the pact at the last minute, protesting some of the wording.

The Manawatu River stretches 200km through farmland from Norsewood, at the top of the river, to Foxton.

Over the years, it's become polluted through treated sewerage from Palmerston North, and several other towns, being discharged straight into the river. The river is worse the further down you go.

Farm run-off is also a big polluter, and councils in the area have encouraged farmers to plant trees to stop the run off.

Michael McCartney from the Horizons Regional Council told ONE News that the river is so bad, people could potentially get sick from swimming in it, and certainly from drinking the water.

"It's because the contaminants from the land wash off the land," he said.

That's despite many farmers becoming more aware of the problem, and recycling their effluent as fertiliser to enrich the soil.

"We're becoming a lot more careful about how we manage our effluent, because it's an asset." said dairy farmer Keith Riley. "We have to buy in the nutrients if we don't use what we have got."

Palmerston North mayor Jono Naylor says the council has looked at using a land-based discharge system for sewerage "but the cost to the community was just far too high".

Today's agreement was missing one key signature, that of Federated Farmers.

"The river has been described as dirty, lacking life and culturally compromised and that emotional kind of nonsense has to be left out," said John Barrow, speaking for Tararua Federated Farmers.

Horowhenua mayor Brendon Duffy says the challenge to get the river flowing crystal-clear is long-term.

"I suspect it will be thirty years before it's returned back to the standard that people want it."

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