The campaign to clean up our rivers was launched at the Green Conference at Queens Birthday weekend. However, the work prior to the launch goes back a number of years. Russel Norman and Eugenie Sage deserve full credit for the campaigns they have run, which have seen the plight of our rivers become a national issue over the past ten years.
I took on the water portfolio last year and since then have been very busy. I have visited rivers and met with local people in Te Tai Tokerau, Waikato, the Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, Hawke’s Bay, Horowhenua, and Canterbury. I have been supporting the people of Wairoa after the Waihi dam devastated their river. I have met with the pulp mills at Kawerau about the Tarawera river, which some of us have been fighting to clean up for more than 20 years. I spent an excellent day with Millan Ruka, the champion of clean rivers in Northland, and I attended a fascinating seminar with many people on the state of Lake Waihora in Canterbury. It’s been great working with dedicated Waikato people fighting for the lakes and rivers downstream of the massive dairy conversions on the volcanic plateau. Our petition of 8100 names helped Landcorp decide to cut their proposed new dairy conversions by one half. The effort to stop further damage to the Tukituki river by the proposed Ruataniwha dam continues. I have also stood alongside communities opposing bottled water extraction without a fee – particularly the Ashburton people, where a company is proposing to bottle pure water from an acquifer (an underground waterway) and then refill the acquifer with dirty water from a river that is so overused it can’t afford to lose anymore water.
As well as regional work, the Greens have rigorously questioned the Government in Parliament about their refusal to lift the national water bottom line to swimmable. The issue of Government subsidised irrigation further impacting on rivers in Wairarapa, Hawke’s Bay and Canterbury has also directed some of our challenges in the House.
Working on water issues and standing up for rivers is not new. Essential to that work is talking with manawhenua kaitiaki of the rivers and supporting their passion. We have also built relationships with freshwater scientists and farm advisors who believe urgent action is needed to save our waterways. The swimmable rivers tour starts in July at the Ruamāhanga river in the Wairarapa, and from then on we will focus on different rivers each month. We have a petition online to support this work and we will be in touch with supporters to invite you to our regional events. Saving rivers cannot be put in the too hard basket and I am looking forward to meeting water activists across country so we can support your efforts. Clean water is well worth this effort, it’s essential that we clean up rivers and make them swimmable again!