10 Feb 2017

Fears not enough being done to halt decline in water quality

From Morning Report, 8:50 am on 10 February 2017

Environmentalists are worried the clean up of fresh waterways is not happening fast enough.

In just the last week, Cantabrians have been warned of the dangers of 10 contaminated waterways and part of Lake Taupo was closed to swimming.

Eight col ecan councillor and fresh water ecologist lan pham by the river avon

A Water Ecologist,  Lan Pham is one of the newly elected councillors on the Canterbury Regional Council or Ecan.

She says city rivers, as well as rural-based waterways, often suffer from contamination and both the Avon and the Heathcote are assessed as having "very poor" quality water.

Lan Pham is less than impressed with the standards set out in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

"When you're putting limits, for example on nitrogen which are many, many times greater than what's already in some of our most polluted rivers that's just a joke, and from a fresh water ecologist point of view, it's laughable.

A great deal of work has been done to improve the state of streams, rivers and lakes with fencing to keep stock out and planting in the riparian strip between the land and the water.

But all those measures do little for nitrogen that leaches off the land and is tied to stock numbers and fertilisers.

Ecan's Chief Scientist, Tim Davie, says local management strategies are being drawn up to deal with these problems.

"There are tight controls that are coming in through the plan around the nitrogen leaching that's allowed from individual farms"

He says these are being phased in over the next five to ten years.

But a water management expert at Canterbury University, Professor Bryan Jenkins, who is also a former chief executive of Environment Canterbury,  fears there is not enough recognition of the scale of effort needed to really turn the situation around.

"What is interesting about all of the reports they have prepared is that they all say this is a first step. This level of intervention is not sufficient to achieve the water quality outcomes that people have an expectation of for our rivers and lake systems, and they're still to be implemented.

The Green party's water spokesperson, Catherine Delahunty has little faith the plans being rolled out now will come good in the end.

"Right now, for example, government says that rivers only have to be wadeable and so that sends a message out to the regional councils to set rules that meet the interests of people who are still wanting industrial scale agriculture. It won't be better later if we don't set really strong rules now.

But the Environment Minister, Nick Smith, is adamant the government is taking robust action.

"I do not believe it is credible to say that there has been a reduction in standards about the levels that are being set. Freshwater quality science has made huge steps forward over the last 40years and those standards are being revised as we have better scientific information.

Nick Smith says the current government regards freshwater quality as the second most important environmental challenge after climate change.

AND you can hear more on this story this weekend. RNZ explores the fight to improve water quality in Insight on Sunday after the news at 8a.m.