Government 90 per cent swimmable waterways target condemned

BIG GOAL: The Government's new target calls for 90 per cent of lakes and rivers to be swimmable by 2040.

An “ambitious” new plan released by the Government aims to ensure 90 per cent of the country’s lakes and rivers are swimmable by 2040.

Implementing the plan is expected to cost the Government, farmers and councils $2 billion over the next 23 years.

In Canterbury about 80 per cent of rivers and lakes are considered swimmable, according to Government figures. Nationwide, the figure is 72 per cent.

However, Forest & Bird has condemned the Government’s new water quality standards, warning that they lock in current levels of water pollution and allow for a five-fold increase in the chance of getting sick from swimming in a river.

The figures cover rivers that are more than 0.4m deep and lakes that are greater than 1.5km in perimeter.

Chief executive Kevin Hague said the announcement did not require any improvement to water quality, except for the very worst rivers.

“If your local river is polluted now, the government does not require that its water quality is improved to a standard that is safe for people and the ecosystem that it should support. Instead, all they propose is that the current situation is maintained,” Mr Hague said.

“In fact, they’ve gone further and reduced swimmability standards. Until now, the standard for our cleanest rivers allowed a one in a hundred chance of getting sick. Now, the proposal is that you will have a one in twenty chance of getting sick – and that’s their top standard.

Canterbury’s rivers and lakes are typically rated ‘excellent’ for swimmability in the alpine areas but water quality declines near the coast. The Mackenzie country is an exception, as an alpine area with some waterways only rated ‘fair’ or ‘intermittent.’

New Zealand’s swimming guideline is based on the levels of E. coli bacteria in the water. The more E. coli and the more frequently their numbers spike above 540 E.coli per 100ml, the higher the risk someone will get sick if they swim in that water.

The plan aims to achieve its goals through national regulations excluding stock from waterways; planting of riparian vegetation; improvements in discharge treatment and reducing sewage overflows by councils, industry and farmers; and limits on the volume of water takes and the discharge of nutrients achieved through implementation of the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

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