Government Failing New Zealanders On Clean Water

  • 1/09/2016

Fish & Game says the government has failed all New Zealanders with its refusal to commit itself to higher freshwater standards, such as making it safe to swim in rivers.

Environmental organisations, including Fish & Game, have been campaigning for the government to improve the country’s water quality standards by lifting the present “wadeable” requirement to “swimmable”.

But in a keynote speech last night, the Environment Minister Nick Smith said that a swimmable standard is impractical.

Dr Smith said most rivers breach the technical swimmable standard during heavy rain and suggested that the only way to make some waterways swimmable would be to cull the birds living there.

The Minister’s comments came while delivering the 2016 Lincoln Environment lecture at Canterbury’s Lincoln University.

Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson says the government isn’t aiming high enough and the minister’s comments let down all New Zealanders.

“The government is out of step with the public when it comes to protecting our waterways. People have made it clear that they want rivers, lakes and streams which are safe to swim in and gather food from,” says Mr Johnson.

“Havelock North’s water contamination has brought the issue into sharp focus and should be a wakeup call to the government about the dire consequences of contaminated water, Mr Johnson says.

Bryce Johnson is critical of the minister’s claim that the government can’t have a swimmable standard for fresh water because of flooded rivers.

“I am flabbergasted by the minister’s claims. He is trying to hoodwink the public by claiming that because flooded rivers aren’t swimmable, we can’t have a swimmable standard for water quality.

“We should be having this conversation about rivers outside of when they are flooded as this actually when most people go swimming.

“This is cynical politics. Who in their right mind wants to swim in a raging flooded river?

“What people want is to be able to swim in that river during summer while relaxing with their friends and family. Surely, that isn’t too much to ask?” says Mr Johnson.

Bryce Johnson also dismisses the minister’s claim that the only way to make some waterways safe for swimming would be to cull the birds that live there.

“This is the flimsiest and environmentally unsound of excuses and does not stand up to even cursory scrutiny. New Zealand is unique because it evolved as a land with only birds and now the minister wants them killed to preserve water quality?

Mr Johnson says the scientific evidence shows birds are not the main problem in lakes.

“A 2014 Cawthron Institute study looked at pollution sources in 27 Canterbury High Country Lakes and found birds only contributed between 2% and 10% of the problem. Agriculture was the predominant cause.

“Why does the minister make no mention of the large number of introduced four legged mammals already implicated in lowering water quality?” asks Mr Johnson.

“Under the government’s present proposals, stock don’t have to be totally excluded from our waterways until 2030. That is too long to wait and the government could do something practical right now by shortening that time frame.

“The damage caused by waiting another 14 years before it is illegal to keep stock out of waterways is too much for our rivers, streams and lakes to bear”, says Mr Johnson.

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