Petition hopes to improve Govt aims on water

Students address those gathered at Parliament at the handover of the petition (Richard Cooper / Newshub.)
Students address those gathered at Parliament at the handover of the petition (Richard Cooper / Newshub.)

A 12,000-strong petition has been presented to Parliament this afternoon wanting the Government to commit to higher freshwater standards.

The Choose Clean Water group has been touring across the country collecting signatures and stories -- a hikoi including school children arrived on Parliament's front lawn around 1pm.

Currently, the Government has a bottom line for freshwater bodies to be "wadeable", but those demanding more would prefer it to be raised to "swimmable".

Group coordinator Marnie Prickett says they wanted to send a strong message to government about committing to clean and safe water for future generations.

"Now is an historic moment for New Zealand in terms of how we manage freshwater and protect our rivers and lakes. It could have a huge effect on the lives of our young people and will be judged by future generations. We want to make sure our leaders do the right thing for all New Zealanders."

Petition hopes to improve Govt aims on water


The group was met by Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei and MP Catherine Delahunty.

"New Zealand's lakes and rivers should be clean enough for children to swim in without becoming sick," Ms Delahunty says.

Labour leader Andrew Little says the 'wadeable' goal shows the Government doesn't care about living up to its 100 percent pure branding.

"By the Government's own reckoning, 61 percent of our monitored waterways are of 'poor' or 'very poor' quality which means they are unsafe for swimming and should be avoided.

"This acceptance of dirty water quality is the reason New Zealand's young people have taken it upon themselves to lobby the Government for higher standards and action," Mr Little says.

He says Labour would commit to a minimum standard for swimmable lakes and rivers.

Environment Minister Nick Smith is open to strengthening the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, but making every water body swimmable is "unrealistic".

"What I don't think is realistic is to require that every water body in New Zealand be swimmable. That wasn't even true prior to human settlement of New Zealand."

The plan aims to maintain or improve the quality of water around the country.

Dr Smith says the country's freshwater standards are high by international standards.

"If you take by volume terms, 90 percent of New Zealand's freshwater is in its pure state. It's not 100 percent -- the slogan in my view is a great one for New Zealand."

He welcomed the petition because it raises the profile of the plight of freshwater.

The group had been invited to join a consortium of interests under the Land Water Forum to help guide improvement of freshwater.

The official bottom line is for water bodies to be 'wadeable' with moderate risk, defined as less than 5 percent, of infection from bacteria like E. Coli.

Councils have until 2025 to implement their water quality standards, but that doesn't mean they should be met by then or have progress made on their goals.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has warned delaying actions could further degrade water quality, in some cases irreversibly.