Most Kiwi road trips involve stopping at rivers you can swim in.
Unfortunately, when you’re campaigning for clean rivers, it’s often the opposite. I spend a lot of my time pulling up beside stretches of water that you wouldn’t be paid to swim in.
Yesterday was one of those days. But let’s start with the positive.
First stop was the pristine, postcard-perfect Blue Springs in Putaruru, where over 60% of New Zealand’s bottled water comes from. Think households brands like Pump, Kiwi Blue and Kiwi Pure (New Zealanders spent a staggering $60.4 million on bottled water at petrol stations and supermarkets in 2012) but also more expensive, artisanal varieties.
We market this water on New Zealand’s clean green brand. Problem is there’s a growing gap between that brand and the reality of the state of our waterways.
More on that in a moment, but first, let’s stop and check for trout…
While at Blue Spring, I filled a large plastic bottle with water. I’m pleased to report it looked exactly the same as water you’d buy at the supermarket – crystal clear and 100% drinkable. Which I suppose isn’t surprising, given it comes from the same place.
We then headed about 75kms down the Waihou River to Te Aroha. This is where things go very wrong with the water.
The Waihou River at Te Aroha is so degraded that the Waikato Regional Council labels the river unsatisfactory for swimming and the100% of tests in the last 5 years for nitrogen and phosphorous show unsatisfactory levels.
Why? In the Waihou/Piako catchment, 42,000 hectares of land was intensified between 2002 and 2008. This was mainly due to intensification of existing pastoral land, either by a change of land use (e.g. sheep to dairy) or intensification within a land use (e.g. intensification of dairy).
The Waihou now receives over 1,500 tonnes of nitrogen per year and about 150 tonnes of phosphorous.
I went for a quick kayak with fishery biologist Bill Brownell, to see for myself what was happening on the water in and around Te Aroha.
It was a far cry from Blue Spring, I can tell you. I filled another bottle with water, and compared it with the earlier one….
Last stop Turua, close to the Firth of Thames. Things are even more dire there. Check out the contrast between the original Blue Spring water and the local water…
This election Kiwis have a real choice. A government that’s perfectly happy with the unswimmable river water you see in the bottle on the right. Or a Green Government that will ensure ensure all New Zealand rivers are safe enough to swim in and enjoy.