Farmers slam Green Party's river 'stunt'

(Getty / file)
(Getty / file)

The Green Party has kicked off its campaign for swimmable rivers at a major Wairarapa river, but it's already managed to get offside with the farming fraternity it claims it wants to work with.

In a second blow, Greens' ally Labour has admitted cleaning up rivers wouldn't be a priority if it took office.

Green Party co-leader Metiria Turei and MP Catherine Delahunty visited the Ruamahanga River, Ms Turei's own awa, which they say starts pristine in the high country then gets mucky downstream as a result of sewage and agricultural run-off.

The party plans to visit 10 rivers around the country polluted by factories, farms, sewage and urbanisation, and highlight what needs to be done to clean them up.

"We all know our rivers are really important to our culture and our economy," Ms Turei says. "We also know most of them are too unhealthy for us to safely swim in. That is not okay and we can't keep pretending it's not happening."

Wairarapa Federated Farmers president Jamie Falloon wasn't impressed with the Greens' approach - he says the Ruamahanga is perfectly swimmable.

"We're really disappointed the Greens have picked the Ruamahanga to promote their political statements about swimmability versus wadeability."

He says the only reason the river has a poor bill of health is the sewage plant upstream, because farmers have fenced off all waterways in the Ruamahanga catchment that are more than a metre wide and permanently flowing.

Mr Falloon says anyone who thinks dairy intensification needs to be reduced must simply dislike farmers, who are unwilling to work with the Greens after their "political stunt".

"Not when they come up to the Wairarapa and use emotive language like 'the tragic state of the river' and political stunts like getting schoolchildren to wade into the river in the middle of winter."

It's also irresponsible to go wading in the river when it's in high flow due to rain, Mr Falloon says.

But Ms Turei denies rivers are a political football.

"If we're not here to clean up our rivers and to make them safe for our kids and grandkids to swim in, what's the point of politics? What's the point of being able to make these rules and laws about our environment?"

She says the Greens want to work with the "thousands of farmers" who want to clean up and protect rivers.

Labour leader Andrew Little says cleaning up the rivers wouldn't be a priority for a Labour-led Government.

"We want to get people in homes, we want to get the education system sorted, we want people getting the healthcare they need," he says.

"The environment is essential and vital and we've got to get to work on that, and no doubt when we get the opportunity we'll negotiate what that order of priority is, but we've got to look after people and get people well settled first."

Ms Turei says the Greens' campaign is an attack on the Government's "wadeable" standard for waterways.

"We're here to remind people we all have our rivers, our own rivers and creeks we love and we played in, and that we all want our rivers and lakes to be safe for swimming for our kids and our grandkids."