Waterways should be swimmable
Water quality in New Zealand has reached crisis point. Freshwater quality has been in steady decline over recent decades and in response, communities throughout the country are calling for authorities to do more.
The statistics speak for themselves: 90 per cent of our wetlands are gone; 74 per cent of our native freshwater fish and invertebrate species are threatened – the highest percentage in the world; and almost two thirds of monitored rivers have been graded unsafe for swimming.
Our local river, the Manawatu, made headlines in 2009 as the most polluted river in the western world, after measurements showed extreme oxygen level fluctuations.
Adding to the pressure on freshwater is the intention to set the national standard for water quality at ‘‘wadeable’’ through legislation called the National Objectives Framework. For bacteria like E.coli (indicating faecal contamination), this standard translates to a moderate risk of infection from wading or boating on a river or lake.
The Choose Clean Water Campaign has set about raising the minimum standard for freshwater in lakes, rivers, streams, groundwater, wetlands and estuaries to swimmable.
The campaign began with five young Kiwis wanting to tour the country and document the personal stories of the seldom told human cost of losing our freshwater ecosystems [see The Tribune, January 13, 2016].
The tour travelled throughout the country for a month making short films of New Zealanders and their relationship with their local waterways, and collecting signatures for a petition to the House of Representatives on the quality of our freshwater.
Since beginning the tour, the campaign has been fully endorsed and financially supported by the Tourism Export Council. The accompanying petition has so far received close to 9,000 signatures.
Drinkable – Wilkies Pools in Egmont National Park are an example of pristine freshwater. The intention is to reduce the ‘‘acceptable’’ standard for New Zealand rivers to ‘wadeable’.