We're Waiting Too Long for Clean Water

  • 23/02/2017

The government is being criticised for not being ambitious enough in its just-announced plan to improve water quality in the country’s rivers, lakes and streams.

FGNZ NC Selwynriver5The Prime Minister today unveiled the National-led government’s Clean Water plan, which aims to make 90% of New Zealand’s rivers and lakes swimmable by 2040.

The cost of improving freshwater quality is estimated to cost two billion dollars.

Fish & Game is welcoming the government’s admission declining water quality is a problem and that it has finally committed itself to addressing the issue.

Above Right: The Selwyn River, once one of New Zealand's best swimming rivers now with toxic algae turning it bright green.

But the statutory organisation says today’s action plan is long overdue and it will be decades before the goal outlined today will be achieved.

Fish & Game’s chief executive Bryce Johnson wants more urgency.

“Under the government’s proposals, it will be nearly quarter of a century before it achieves its goal of New Zealanders being able to swim in 90% of their rivers and lakes,” Mr Johnson says.

Mr Johnson says the government is also trying to fiddle the figures to make it seem like it is achieving its goal.

“Under the proposals, double the amount of faecal contamination will be allowed in waters classed as excellent for swimming. Hoodwinking the public like this is just not on,” he says.

Bryce Johnson says farm stock contribute to faecal contamination levels and wants immediate action on excluding all stock from waterways.

“The plan still allows stock to be in waterways until 2030. It is obvious there is a problem now and we need to act now. Rather than waiting, that requires making the stock exclusion deadline sooner, not later,” he says.

Fish & Game does welcome the decision to use the Macroinvertebrate Community Index – MCI – as one way to measure ecosystem health but says this doesn’t paint the full picture of what he public wants.

“People go to rivers to catch fish like eels, trout and koura not to look at how many small insects there are and the MCI doesn’t guarantee fish abundance,” Bryce Johnson says.

Mr Johnson is critical of the time it has taken for the government to act.

“We need to do better. The government’s plan is years overdue and the proposed $2,000 penalties for polluters are weak. That sum is derisory and a slap in the face for the environment – we want polluters punished with much heavier fines.”

Mr Johnson says the failure to address the problem earlier is costing New Zealanders dear.

“The public is paying dearly for governments allowing polluters to continue dirtying our fresh waterways. Not only is it going to cost billions of dollars to get back to where we were, but on top of the economic cost, there is a cultural, health and recreational price.

“For too long, the government has allowed vested interests to take away the public’s right to drink, swim in or gather food from our rivers and streams. And the irony is that now the public is going to have to pick up the bill to put things right.”

“It is clear the public has had enough. They have marched on Parliament, signed petitions and lobbied hard to have their precious waterways properly protected. It is time all political parties had firm policy on this issue,” Bryce Johnson says.

Fish & Game is urging all New Zealanders to have their say on the proposal and make sure the government properly protects their rivers, lakes and streams for future generations.

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