Swimmable waterways

The Herald reports:

A national requirement for all bodies to be swimmable all of the time is “impractical”, Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith says.

But environmental groups have accused the Government of dodging tougher limits to address the country’s freshwater woes.

In a lecture on freshwater management at Lincoln University last night, Smith said the Government was committed to improving the quality and swimmability of New Zealand’s lakes and rivers, but was “cautious of regulatory requirements that are unworkable”.

Most of the country’s rivers breached the 540 E. coli count required for swimming during heavy rainfall, he said, and there were water bodies home to many birds whose E. coli made it impossible to meet the swimming standard without a massive bird cull.

“There are also rivers associated with geothermal activity that makes water quality unsuitable for swimming,” he told the gathering.

“We also need to be open about the cost of our regulatory requirements on communities and the fact that many water bodies have long hydrological cycles that mean it is a long time before we see improvement.”

Standards under the Government’s National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management, set in 2014, includes a requirement for regional councils to manage freshwater bodies so people’s health is safeguarded, and carries a bottom line that applies to “wading” and boating.

The demand that every single waterway in NZ must be swim-able comes across to me as a slogan, not a policy.

Good policy considers costs and benefits and practicality.

Here’s what I would like to know, rather than just keep hearing a slogan.

  • Have NZ waterways got more or less clean in the last eight years? The direction is more important than the speed
  • If they have improved, by how much.
  • What percentage of NZ waterways are currently swim-able and how does this compare to other countries such as UK, Australia, Canada and US?
  • On current policy settings what proportion of waterways are likely to be deemed swim-able in ten years time?
  • What would be the cost, if even practical, to have every waterway swim-able within x years?

I suspect the Greens can’t answer any of these questions except maybe the first one. If they can, then please share the info so we can decide whether the slogan is good policy.

Comments (42)

Login to comment or vote