Government bows to pressure, adopts 'swimmable' target for lakes and rivers

Environment Minister Nick Smith

The government has made an election-year change to its goals for the quality of water in New Zealand's lakes and rivers, moving from a minimum standard of all water bodies being "wadeable" and adopting instead a target of 90% "swimmable" waterways by 2040.

Achieving what Environment Minister Nick Smith said was an "ambitious" target would cost around $2 billion over the next 23 years and will cover the length of every river more than 400 centimetres deep and every lake with a perimeter of more than 1.5 kilometres. A national total of 54,000km of lake perimeters are covered by that requirement.

Speaking to BusinessDesk, Prime Minister Bill English acknowledged that there was "a political element" to the decision to adopt swimmability as a target but it reflected both strength of public submissions on the question, and the fact that the new target could be backed up credibly by the lengthy programme of work that had led to this point.

"We get to make these choices now because we've worked our arses off so we can stand there with (Environmental Defence Society director) Gary Taylor and (Fish & Game Council head) Bryce Johnson and they will back it up. It's got a very solid foundation."

Cleaner coastal lagoons and estuaries are also part of the package of measures announced today as the latest in eight years of efforts to improve freshwater quality management and represents the latest chapter of work following the "Next steps for freshwater" document published in November 2015.

A 96-page consultation document published today largely mirrors the recommendations from 2015, including fencing of non-dairy stock from freshwater bodies by 2030. While it extends and clarifies a range of monitoring regimes and requirements, the most substantial change is the government's adoption of the aspirational "swimmable" target rather than targeting minimum standards and "wadeability."

"New Zealanders expect to be able to take a dip in their local river or lake without getting a nasty bug," Dr Smith said, announcing a decision whose political intent is to neutralise the momentum created by the Green and Labour parties to require a standard of swimmability.

However, Smith warned that 100% swimmability was not an achievable goal.

"Even our cleanest rivers breach swimming water standards during storms.

However, the definition of swimmable comes with caveats, detail and a long timeline.

"The swimmable target is based on meeting the water quality standard at least 80% of the time, in line with European and US definitions," Dr Smith said. "At the moment, 72% by length meet this definition and the target is to increase that to 90% by 2040.

"This means an additional 10,000 kilometres of swimmable rivers and lakes by 2040, or 400 km per year" and will be achieved in part by an estimated $367 million worth of additional farm fencing to exclude dairy, dairy support and beef cattle, pigs, and deer from waterways by 2030.

Also announced was a new $100 million Freshwater Improvement Fund, with bids open for projects until April 13.

Technical changes to the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management, which dictates national standards and overrides the Resource Management Act, include adding macroinvertebrate (insect) monitoring, clarifying the "consideration of economic opportunities", requiring in-stream limits for phosporous and nitrogen, clarifying exceptions policy, and strengthing the requirements for improvement and monitoring.

(BusinessDesk)


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Should not be not too hard. I haven't struck a river yet that I haven't swum.
Matarau -N. Wairoa and a lot between.

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Not everyone has your low standards and normally relies on global standards or WHO standards

Great to see that Nick Smith has finally worked out what environmental standards actually means - a shame he couldn't work out what housing affordability and housing crisis meant before it was too alte for many Kiwi's

Nick is a very lucky man that his best mate is Bill English or he would probably be unemployed by now

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Kiwi's -> Kiwis ...

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Nick Smith -> Useless....

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actually means -> actually mean

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So you believe my standards are low. Do you know what our lowland rivers were like 50 years ago? With a dairy factory, butchers killing shed or a paper mill on every river?
This argument is not about "cleaning up our rivers", it is about getting cattle removed off Molesworth St'n, St. James St'n and other high country stations so the tree huggers and fish and game members can wander where ever they like to get a "spiritual experience" watching the wilding trees, Canada Geese and Possum, Deer et al take it over.

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Yes I do know what they were like
You could swim in the braided rivers in Canterbury without fear of getting unwell
Now there is no water in the Selwyn river because of irrigation and the Hurunui is also currently being drained as is the Waipara river
The Waikato was much cleaner as was the Manawatu
I agree some of the areas near the river mouths were polluted by dairy factories or freezing works discharged

Isn't any waste bad and yesteryear habits should not justify continuation of bad practice today.
There is no excuse

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It is not the swimming it is how we are swimming. Maybe they can also focus on drownings which are on their way up and not if you know what I mean..

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I think the run-off from Hamilton city is the single largest point source of pollution into the Waikato River, particularly for those human-derived pathogens (nasty bugs) that make waters unswimmable. Swimming in human waste is probably more undesirable than swimming in slightly elevated nitrogen containing water?

It seems like using loose, vague, unscientific definitions like "unswimmable" is a recipe for legislative and judicial disasters that will drag on for decades and cost unbelievable sums of wasted human time, energy and endeavour.

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"legislative .................. will drag on .....and cost ..millions"!!
But isn't that the whole idea? Employment for the otherwise unemployable?

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Your comments in the past have made a useful contribution to discussion. Please go back to those days.

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Good to hear it's on the agenda, but targets of 2030 or 2040 are so far ahead that they inevitably just end up being the "next persons" problem. Small, concrete targets 4 years away are far more likely to be achieved.

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Most reporting has missed the key thing here.

They've simply moved the goalposts by rewriting the standards. Wade-able changes to be considered Swim-able.

The new swim-able standard has moved from 260 parts of E coli per 100ml to 540 parts per 100ml.

"Y'all Kiwis need some more poop in your diet."

Beautiful, swim-able rivers with a much higher chance of getting sick...

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These guys are a joke, and their way of dealing with things always off the "back foot", would be laughable if it were not causing so much long term damage.

Their script of inaction of the past 8 years, to be progressed in stages

1. Default mode = do absolutely nothing for as long as politically possible.
2. Vehemently deny there is any problem
3. Continue to deny but with wiggle room and with a silver tongue.
4. Agree there is a problem but blame anybody else you can on the planet, and even the planet.
5. Relax the rules so it looks like you are doing something.
6. Do something but make it decades away
7. Do something but only a token ineffectual amount
8. If all else fails adopt the opposition parties policy before the election.

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Ok Nick if you can and want to swim in it the river is swimmable. For at least ten minutes. But you never will of course you steaming hypocrite

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Pathetic election year pandering trying to head off the Greens with zero substance and a meaningless deadline. Might as well say 2140

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"Head off Greens"? Why, all the greens do is bad mouth the country that feeds them!
As for "fencing rivers"? That is bull and the greens know it. Never seen a fence yet that will keep wildlife like mallards/pigs et al from a river. And we all know (except the "greens") what the stream life do in the water.

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Is this repeating the English/Smith's earlier claim that it's birds pooping that are actually making rivers dirty?

I'm impressed that before dairy came along the birds were refraining for so long from pooping in our rivers, leaving them pristine for swimming. And disappointed that they all decided subsequently that rivers were the best place to toilet.

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As an active back-country hiker I'm appalled at how filthy the rivers are from cow crap....its bloody-well everywhere. Just disgusting. Dairy Farmers have got away with murder and the waterways are filthy. I sure as hell wouldn't swim in them let alone drink the water.

And god help us if Nick Smith is in control - he couldn't find a handle on a coffee cup.

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A hell of a lot of back country rivers I've seen are crawling with rock snot and that sure as hell didn't come out of a cow's backside.
Not a whole heap of dairy farms in the back country anyway.

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You are absolutely correct and Giardia most likely came from an anglers backside rather than a cows.

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Your knee jerk need to defend the diary industry is interesting but futile. The public has cottoned on to the fact that with the intensification of agriculture that dairy has brought a subsequent and directly related decline in water quality and availability. The simple rule for a business should be water quality leaving should be the same as water quality entering. Any less is just the business parasiting on the community.

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Why should the standard not be the same for both the community and the business?
Why no uproar over treated (sometimes not treated)sewage discharges to water?

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What a cop out. As Nick Smith won't be in government in 2040, it's just passing the buck; or should that be the $. Small steps every couple of years should be the target. There won't even be a dairy industry in NZ in 2040, it will be in China, helping him meet his swimmable rivers by moving the goal posts target.

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>As Nick Smith won't be in government in 2040, it's just passing the buck;

Well...is this surprising?

National has done the same with pension affordability and the housing crisis. Everything basically for the benefit of the investor-voters - boomers - at the expense of future generations.

A government of the boomers, by the boomers, and for the boomers. And stuff the next generations of Kiwis.

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So the Government, in response to public pressure (read "their qualitative research groups") decides that 80% of rivers will be swimmable. But at the same time loosens the standard to half of what it was before and says the rivers won't be at the standard all the time.

So does this mean that when the new standard (read "the old slacker standard") is breached, it was just one of those times we need to accept??

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Typical national government cynicism for the intellectual rigour of the electorate. Headline today, forgotten and unaccountable tommorow. AKA. Export targets for red meat, masquerading as support and involvement but in hindsight and reality just more propaganda to hang on to the baubles of office

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