The Government has shut the door on the 12,000 people who have signed a petition calling for a requirement for our fresh waterways to be “swimmable” at the very least.
The Minister for the Environment Nick Smith says it’s “not realistic nor achievable” for the Government to legislate that all freshwater in lakes, rivers, streams, groundwater, wetlands and estuaries, be “swimmable” rather than “wadeable”, as is currently the case.
Yet the Labour Party is committing to making “swimmable” the minimum standard if it was to be elected into power.
The issue has been debated in Parliament as campaigners have delivered the Choose Fresh Water petition, backed by the Tourism Export Council, to the Beehive.
It’s pertinent as the Government’s reforming the way it regulates fresh water. It’s seeking public submissions (up until April 22) on proposals it has made to improve the management of fresh water in New Zealand.
In its consultation document, ‘Next steps for fresh water’, it says: “This issue is more complex than just requiring all water bodies to be swimmable all of the time.
“Water bodies frequently – in natural as well as developed catchments – breach swimmable water standards during high rainfall events, and achieving such an absolute standard would come at a cost way beyond what is realistic.
“Nor do people want to swim every day of the year, including when rivers are in flood.
“We need a more sophisticated approach... We want an approach that improves water quality but is also realistic about the time, cost and impacts of achieving this important goal.”
National: Why spend billions making waterways we don’t swim in “swimmable”?
Smith repeated this rhetoric during question time in Parliament today, adding:
“Of the 425,000km of rivers and streams, only about 11% physically are able to be swum in, and it would cost billions and billions of dollars to make some of those streams swimmable when no one ever has, and no one ever will swim there.
“We also have water bodies which have significant bird populations where the only way to make them swimmable would be to cull the bird life.”
Smith suggested that is some cases communities would have to choose between having swimmable waterways or healthy bird life.
He avoided commenting on Greens MP, Catherine Delahunty’s, suggestion fresh water contaminated by natural occurrences likes birds, volcanic ash and floods, could be exempt from the “swimmable” standard.
He said the Government had spent $115 million on improving water quality over the last seven years, noting only $20 million had been spent during the previous seven years.
Furthermore, “Over the last 25 years, the amount of pollution from point source – factories, dairy sheds, council municipal systems – has actually reduced by about 90%,” he said.
Smith responded to a question from Labour’s Spokesperson for the Environment David Parker, saying all fresh waterways are currently required to be improved, or maintained at the very least.
Labour: Beef farms risk dirtying waterways as dairy farms have
Speaking to interest.co.nz, Parker said Smith was wrong.
“The problem with the current National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, is it has a baseline, “wadeability” rather than “swimmability”, so it allows existing clean waterways to be degraded to the point they’re no longer clean enough to swim in. And it doesn’t require – once they have already been degraded – to be cleaned up to the swimmable standard,” he said.
Parker called for the Statement to specifically include controls on land use intensity, saying this was the issue, rather than effluent from the likes of factories and council municipals.
He admitted intensive dairying has been the problem, but suggested beef farming is what we need to keep an eye on now. He said it’s not a matter of ‘if we fix dairy, we fix the problem’.
“The greatest increase in nutrients in effluent and nutrient load on rivers in the last two decades has come from dairy. But that’s changing now. The increases will be coming from beef.
“The dairy boom is over, and the beef boom is on.”
Parker pointed out the Government isn’t planning to require waterways around some dairy, beef and other beef cattle farms to be fenced off until various dates as late as 2030.
“The Government should be learning from the fact the dairy boom got out of control in terms of its effects on water quality, and now they’re allowing the same thing to happen in respect of beef.”
Parker didn’t accept Smith’s view that making our waterways swimmable was too expensive.
He wouldn’t put a price tag on reaching this standard over time, but said, “It ought not to cost taxpayers”.
“It is perfectly proper for New Zealanders to expect that those who are using water and farming close to waterways, to do so in a way that stops the rivers from being polluted. And if farmers can’t do that, their method of farming needs to change.
“There’s some really good [farming] practice and there’s some poor practice, and the poor practice needs to be improved.”