23 Feb 2017

Government's freshwater plans due today

11:56 am on 23 February 2017

Freshwater campaigners fear a government announcement on the country's waterways due today will not help their cause.

Currently all freshwater must be clean enough for wading or boating, but for years campaigners have demanded the standard should be raised to swimmable.

Almost still water with  floating weed and  green algae suspended throughout the water

Water quality campaigners are hopeful the government will change the country's water standards to swimmable. Photo: RNZ / Philippa Tolley

The National-led government started its work on freshwater management changes in 2009 and had made some alterations, but the state of the country's water has not dramatically improved.

Labour's environment spokesperson, David Parker, said that was a disgrace.

He said the standard should be lifted so all waterways had to be swimmable and he insisted that was achievable.

"You know there are two stages here, first you've got to stop things getting worse and that requires immediate fencing of areas that are intensively used near waterways and strict limits on nutrient applications.

"Then over time you've got to improve environmental performance so that those rivers that are degraded get cleaned up - neither of those things are being done properly yet."

Environment Minister Nick Smith has insisted it was not realistic to require every water body in New Zealand be swimmable, saying he had to be clear that any law or regulation put in place was actually doable.

But the spokesperson for Choose Clean Water, Marnie Prickett, said setting swimmable as the standard would simply mean the government was being honest about the state of the country's waterways.

"We're not hopeful about today's announcement, what we are anticipating is that the government is actually going to weaken swimming standards, we are expecting that based on the advice that we've seen that they have received from the industry dominated Land and Water Forum, and also based on their track record on water quality, which hasn't been good."

The Green Party MP, Catherine Delahunty, hoped the Minister would do something robust and genuine to improve river quality.

"We are hoping that he will set tougher rules for the discharge of pollutants, not weaker rules.

"We need this to be robust, we need this to be strong."

Late last year the Land and Water Forum responded to Mr Smith's request for advice on three water quality issues, which could form the basis of today's announcement.

The first of the three was about how to incorporate a measurement of the health of macroinvertebrate communities as a mandatory water quality measurement.

The others were to address nitrogen as a nutrient and to provide for a better focus on "swimmability".

Ms Prickett said the better focus on swimmability did not necessarily mean raising the water quality standard to that level.

"They are going to probably use some technical language and use some confusing terms, but I think the question that needs to be asked of Nick Smith today, and of Bill English, is simply, 'are you weakening the swimming standards, are you allowing more poo into the rivers and lakes New Zealanders swim in?'"

The announcement is expected this afternoon, ahead of the National Party's Blue-Green forum in Auckland this weekend.

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