The seven steps to healthier New Zealand waterways

  • 08/06/2017
freshwater government waterways rivers lakes
The Buller River. Photo credit: Getty

A consortium of groups across a variety of sectors has created an alternative plan to get New Zealand's rivers back up to scratch after what they say is lack of urgency on the issue by the Government.

The Freshwater Rescue Plan was launched in Wellington on Thursday and is aimed at countering the Government's Clean Water Package which aimed to have 90 percent of the country's rivers and lakes swimmable by 2040.

The steps are:

  • Prioritise human and ecosystem health by adopting evidence-based bottom lines into freshwater policy
  • Withdraw all public subsidies of irrigation schemes
  • Invest in an Agricultural Transition Fund to support a shift towards environmentally sound primary industries by redirecting $480 million of public money earmarked for irrigation
  • Adopt OECD recommendation to establish a "whole-of-government, multi-stakeholder process to develop a long-term vision for the transition of New Zealand to a low-carbon, greener economy"
  • Implement strategies to decrease cow numbers immediately
  • Reduce freshwater contamination by instigating polluter pays systems nationally
  • Address the performance of regional council's on improving water quality through quarterly reports from the Ministry for the Environment on enforcement, breaches and monitoring.

The Government was panned after announcing its package in February, accused of shifting goalposts and weakening protections for waterways.

Under the proposal:

  • Water that had a 'B Grade' and carried a 'moderate risk of infection' in 2014 would get an 'A Grade' under the proposed new criteria
  • While an 'A Grade' standard for E. coli was 260/100mL of water, this would change to 540/100mL of water
  • This means the risk of contracting campylobacter would go from less than one in 1000 in 2014 to less than one in 20.

The Government's current standard of waterways being 'wadable' would no longer apply and will be replaced with a $2 billion clean-up plan for the next 23 years.

The definition will change to 'swimmable' for all rivers deeper than 40cm and the shores of lakes larger than 1.5km.

The Freshwater Rescue Plan was created by the Tourism Export Council, Fish and Game, Forest and Bird, Choose Clean Water, Federated Mountain Clubs, Greenpeace, Massey University freshwater ecology professor Russell Death, Otago University professor of public health medicine Dr Michael Baker and Dr Alex MacMillan of the New Zealand Climate and Health Council.