Govt's freshwater target falls short of Iwi aspirations

By Talisa Kupenga

Prime Minister Bill English today pledged to make 90 percent of New Zealand's rivers 'swimmable' by 2040, but iwi leaders say the government's standards of swimmable aren't good enough and more needs to be done.

The Prime Minister says the iwi leaders group were key players in freshwater policy discussions, but what role will they play moving forward?

Minister for the Environment Nick Smith says "many councils have iwi actively involved in the development of water policy just as we have through the land and water forum. The degree to which Māori are involved actually depends on the detail of the Treaty settlements in specific areas."

The Government announced it will scrap it's current 'wadeable' waterway standard in favour of the $2billion clean-up. The policy's definition will change to 'swimmable' and waterways will only need to meet water quality standards 80 percent of the time, the same as overseas definitions.

Ngati Kuri Chairman and Iwi Leaders representative Harry Burkhardt says "I think it is a position with a lot of grunt that is deliverable but from a Māori perspective our aspirations are a lot higher."

Rivers rated as 'excellent' can now be up to 540 parts E.coli per 100mls of water, compared to the previous measure of 260. Local iwi say the government's new standard only shifts the goal posts and it's not good enough.

Ngāti Whātua spokesman Glenn Wilcox says "children only need to look at the water and they want to go swim in it.
“The problem is when they do that they end up drinking the water. Now that's not right if most people say you can swim in it, but you can't drink it."

The policy definition of 'swimmable' includes rivers deeper than 0.4metres and the shores of lakes larger than 1.5 kilometres.