by Eugenie Sage
New Zealanders are worried about our rivers and lakes. They want them better managed with less farm run-off. In Lincoln University’s 2013 survey of perceptions of the state of the environment respondents said freshwater management was the most important domestic environmental issue facing New Zealand, just as they did in 2010 and 2008 . Some 41% of 2,200 respondents rated the state of our rivers and lakes as “bad” or “very bad”.
National’s response to an unprecedented decline in Kiwis confidence in the state of our freshwater is not to introduce strong rules for clean water, as the Greens would do, but to propose weak bottom lines.
If you want to help save our rivers and lakes, then it’s vital to add your voice to those asking Government to rethink its proposed bottom-lines for freshwater. Submissions close on the Government’s proposed national objectives for freshwater (NOF) on 4 February 2014. Sign on to our easy online submission or send your own submission to firstname.lastname@example.org or.
The Government’s rhetoric is that the proposed objectives will not allow more water pollution. The reality is different.
Proposed changes to the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management (NPSFW) mean that the current NPS policy to “maintain and enhance” water quality will not apply to individual rivers and lakes, but rather to water quality across a region as a whole. This would allow some rivers to be heavily polluted as long as some (usually upper catchments in the conversation estate) stay clean.
The only compulsory bottom line for human health that the Government is proposing is that water quality in our rivers is suitable for wading and boating but not for swimming.
When we picnic beside a river on a hot summer’s day we want to be swim, not just paddle in ankle deep water because the Government is more concerned about enabling further dairying expansion, that protecting our rights to healthy rivers.
There are big gaps in the compulsory bottom line for ecosystem health. There are no criteria for sediment or macro-invertebrates for example and the limits for nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus (which are pollutants when they are in waterways) are too permissive.
Massey University ecologist, Dr Mike Joy says that the proposed bottom line limits on nitrogen would allow nitrogen levels in rivers to exceed the Yangtze River in China and the Mississippi River in the USA.
Nitrogen limits are to be set at a level toxic to fish and other aquatic life. That may sound okay to a lay person. Scientific evidence which Fish and Game has presented to several regional plan hearings is that this is far too high. Adverse effects on a river’s ecological health occur “long before” toxic levels are reached and aquatic animals die. The proposed nitrogen levels are also likely to result in nuisance algal blooms, making rivers less attractive for recreation and reducing their habitat values.
Please take the time to speak up for rivers you can swim in.