Last Thursday, we carried out our first river tour day in the Swimmable Rivers campaign, in which we are calling on the Government to raise the minimum standard for rivers from wadeable to swimmable. The Ruamāhanga is the river of Metiria’s tupuna and the heart of the Wairarapa. It has some magical spots and some challenges from sewage and agriculture. It’s threatened by big irrigation and it has many dedicated supporters.
It was a day full of weather and surprises. We started at Kuranui College with some thoughtful young people who were keen to know more about the challenges to their river and how they could get involved. We encouraged them to gather up the student voice and let adults know how they feel about clean water!
We had an excellent meeting with Masterton city councillors, local farmers, and the Mayor to discuss how a wastewater system can be made the best it can be, to protect both the river and the soils. We met farmers committed to creating wetlands to absorb nutrients and shared information about chemicals.
Despite wild weather there were gaps in the clouds so we went to a swimming spot known as The Cliff” near Carterton for some group photos. We had signs reading “Wading Only: National’s water quality standards in effect here”, and “Wading only: Previously a great spot for swimming.” We were joined by Kuranui College students, local Greens, Federated Farmers and the Mayor of Carterton who all had opinions on swimmability. The Cliffs is ranked D on the Greater Wellington Regional Council ranking because sometimes it’s unsafe for swimming due to water quality. Some claim this is a rare event and others say a river being safe for swimming is about more than periodic ecoli ratings, it’s about the overall state of the water. This day the water was high and muddy – nobody was wading let alone swimming, but they should be able to all the time, weather permitting.
We then went down to the impressive plantings near Papawai marae where hard working people have turned a creek choked by willows and weeds into a beautiful corridor of native trees and shrubs. It makes quite a contrast to the Greytown sewage ponds next door, which can be flooded by the river. Plantings can really help clean up some pollutants but are not going to fix nitrates which largely come from intensified dairying and have a devastating effect on water.
That is why quite a few people at our public meeting were not big supporters of the proposed dams for big irrigation in the Wairarapa as it will encourage more intensive agriculture, and thus more pollution for our rivers.
The public meeting was well attended. Corina Jordan from Fish and Game gave a big picture talk about what the environmental impacts of intensive agriculture has on rivers and the animals and plants that depend on clean water. Local man Luke Tipoki talked with heart about his relationship with the river, and how it has declined in his lifetime. Metiria talked about our campaign and why clean, swimmable water matters. We had a great conversation with the audience about how to stop pollution and clean up the river as well as some lively debate about who should decide these matters.
It was a great start to the tour and I really appreciated what we learned as well as what we shared. It confirms my view that it’s time to treat rivers as the taonga they are and change the framework that permits pollution. As a farmer in the audience reminded us, the Ruamāhanga was abused in the past and farmers can change their practices and survive. She reminded all of us that we should learn from history and work for solutions!
Next stop, Waikirikiri/Selwyn river, more controversy and more inspiration!
Public Meeting: Let’s make the Waikirikiri Selwyn River swimmable again
Visit the Facebook event here.
Sign the petition
The Green Party will require as a minimum that all water bodies be safe for swimming in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, rather than the current ‘safe for wading and boating’ standard. Sign our petition to tell the Government we want swimmable rivers.