Govt aims to get 90pct of rivers swimmable by 2040

The Government's proposed change to water standards permits almost double the level of E. coli in water rated "swimmable".

Environment Minister Nick Smith today pledged to make 90 percent of New Zealand rivers 'swimmable' by 2040, but the Greens have been scathing of the policy, saying the Government has simply 'shifted the goal posts about what water is considered swimmable. 

As part of the Government's policy proposal, the grade criteria for water quality would be shifted.

  • 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 our waterways being 'wadable' has been thrown out - 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. 

To achieve the goal, there's a new policy and regulations, including a ban on allowing stock in waterways - which progressively apply to dairy, pig, beef and deer farms from 2030.

Greens co-leader James Shaw told Newshub Nick Smith is "having a laugh" and he is  "flabbergasted at the announcement". 

"Kiwis absolutely should not believe it. Those rivers will have just the same amount of toxins in them tomorrow as they did yesterday. 

"They're just using a different labelling programme to say that they're somehow now safer but nothing's actually changed.

"He must think we're stupid." 

Mr Shaw said the increase in the water safety risk over the last 20 years is "directly attributable to the massive growth in dairy intensification". 

The Government says a 100 percent swimmable waterways target was unrealistic.

"This ambitious plan to improve the water quality in our lakes and rivers recognises that New Zealanders expect to be able to take a dip in their local river or lake without getting a nasty bug," Dr Smith said.

The proposal will also require regional councils to up their game when it comes to sewage discharges and planting. 

"The new regulations on excluding stock from waterways are an important part of this plan to improve water quality. The rules progressively apply to dairy, pig, dairy support, beef and deer farms from this year to 2030 relative to the steepness of the country, at an expected cost of $367 million," Dr Smith said.

"If we were to de-intensify our dairy industry that would go a long way to reducing the pollution at the source."

Water scientist Mike Joy told Newshub he was "really angry" about the Government's announcement.

"Imagine if you were going to a café, going out for dinner, and the chances were one in twenty of you getting campylobacter or an infection from eating your dinner?

"And the council giving it a tick? You know that just wouldn't happen.

"They think that we're all stupid and that by changing the numbers they can claim to be doing better."