Campaigners criticise Government's freshwater policy

Freshwater campaigners are sending a message to the Prime Minister in the form of a 12-metre long billboard in downtown Wellington.

 In the 48 hours following the Government’s announcement of their freshwater policy, 1,452 New Zealanders from across the country raised the thousands of dollars needed to install the billboard.

The billboard was installed this morning on Manners Street in central Wellington and reads, “The Government thinks you won’t notice more poo in your water”.

Campaigners say the new swimming standards will allow for more faecal contamination in New Zealand’s rivers and lakes.

Freshwater campaign group Choose Clean Water says not only has the Government worsened swimming standards but is also allowing extremely high levels of nitrates into waterways that intensifies algal bloom in New Zealand’s rivers and lakes.

Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith however believes the Government’s target is practical and measureable. He says the Government is aiming for 90 per cent swimmability, which covers waterways over 40cm deep and lakes more than 1.5km in perimeter.

“A creek or stream that is less than 40cm deep is not that practical to swim in and there is not the reliable data on water quality in the 400,000km of smaller waterways to enable us to set meaningful targets,” says Smith.

“It is incorrect to claim there is no requirement under the National Policy Statement (NPS) to improve water quality in these 400,000km of creeks and streams. Ninety per cent of these flow into rivers and lakes that have specific targets and monitoring requirements. There is also a general requirement on councils to improve water quality in all waterways.

Choose Clean Water spokesperson, Marnie Prickett disagrees. She says, “The Government has made no real commitment to dealing with the country’s serious problem of water pollution and instead are trying to score points through tricks.

The public wants an honest effort from the Prime Minister and Minister for the Environment to deal with New Zealand’s freshwater crisis. First step, the Government must write legislation that prioritises the health of New Zealanders and their environment.”

Nick Smith believes the government has taken the necessary steps to strengthen and manage New Zealand’s waterways. He says, “We introduced compulsory water metering in 2009, the first NPS on Fresh Water in 2011, the requirement to limit nutrients in 2014, the Environment Reporting Act in 2015 and these swimmability targets this year. We have also increased by six-fold funding for fresh water clean-ups to $450 million.

“The Government shares with environment groups an ambition to improve New Zealand’s water quality but where we differ is ensuring the standards and targets are practical and affordable.”

Laura O’Connell-Rapira, Director of Campaigns at ActionStation adds, “New Zealanders know their rivers and lakes are sick and are being polluted on a massive scale. We need standards that make it clear what is acceptable for our country not a policy that simply justifies the pollution that’s already happened and allows for worse.”