The Government plans to ensure 90 per cent of New Zealand rivers and streams are “swimmable” by 2040, but critics have said to achieve the goal it has changed what qualifies as swimmable.
The target, announced yesterday, is estimated to cost the Government, farmers and councils $2 billion over the intervening 23 years. Other additions to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management include replacing “wadeable” with “swimmable”, adding macroinvertebrate monitoring for ecological health and requiring instream limits for nitrogen and phosphorus.
Massey University freshwater ecologist Dr Mike Joy told Radio NZ that the proposal changed the goalposts on the allowable level of E. coli, essentially lower the standards for what qualifies as excellent swimmability.
Waterways Centre for Freshwater Management director Dr Jenny Webster-Brown agreed, saying she thought the goalposts had been moved but “it’s not going to change the situation greatly, so I’m not sure it’s going to make a big difference”.
Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith defended the targets, saying opponents were using “junk science”. “The vast majority of the time, the risk is less than one-in-1000 – i.e. it is junk science for people like the Greens to say that the Hutt River, you’ve got a one in 20 chance of getting sick.”
The detail of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management is open for consultation until April 28, 2017.
The policy announcement was widely covered by NZ media:
Radio NZ: Govt plans to make 90% of NZ waterways swimmable by 2040
NZ Herald: Government sets 2040 ‘swimmable’ rivers target
TVNZ: Government launches ambitious campaign to clean up dirty rivers and lakes
Newshub: Govt aims to get 90pct of rivers swimmable by 2040
Radio NZ: Water quality measure ‘less stringent’
Stuff.co.nz: New Government target to see 90 per cent of rivers and lakes ‘swimmable’ by 2040
The Press: The thorny politics of ‘swimmable’, a word losing its meaning
Otago Daily Times: New river standards questioned
Newshub: Nick Smith defends water quality targets
Stuff.co.nz: New ‘swimmable’ fresh water targets are also 100% pure politics