Opinion: Greens' rivers PR a car crash

OPINION: The Green Party wanted to embark on a nationwide road trip to some of the country's grimiest, slimiest rivers.

Shouldn't be too hard to organise you'd think, especially by the political party for whom environmental issues are their bread and butter.

Not so, according to Wednesday's visit to the Manawatu River.

It was a good sell: a scungy river, an outspoken freshwater scientist, and school kids to help test the water with a new device that measures the oxygen and pH levels, turbidity, temperature, nitrates and phosphates.

It had all the right ingredients for a good TV story so camera operator Dan and I made the two-hour drive from Wellington.

But the day turned into a total cluster, featuring a locked gate, a car crash and a rogue scientist.

The gate

Bolted shut with nuts that looked like they haven't budged in years, the gate is blocking access to Karere Rd, where the Greens said we'd meet.

Dan Pannett Newshub
Newshub camera operator Dan Pannett tries to gain access to the bolted gate (Isobel Ewing/Newshub.)

We've deliberately driven up early to get plenty of footage of rivers, so we decide to drive back up to the main road and head down the next access road to try our luck.

Private property.

After encountering two more "No Trespassers" signs, Dan reckons he has a wrench in the boot so we head back to have a go at the original gate.

I ring Green Party freshwater spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty to tell her about the gate.

She doesn't know why there's a gate, the scientist they were meeting said it was public property.

Catherine is grateful for our efforts with the wrench and says to keep in touch, and if we can't get it open she'll organise another location.

Just then I hear a victorious shout from Dan. The gate is open.

We head down the road but encounter another gate. This one is fully cameraman-proof.

I call Catherine and she says to meet in Palmerston North at another river access.

We arrive there and it's a decent walk down to a spot where you can see the water. The bank's steep and the current strong. Not ideal for school kids.

It's also much cleaner-looking, unlike the original location that was downstream from the wastewater treatment plant.

The car crash

Catherine still hasn't arrived, but a flash of white hair in the distance heralds the arrival of another Green MP, Steffan Browning.

He doesn't know what's happening, but he informs me Catherine has been in a car crash.

A frazzled Catherine answers my phone call, confirms they're okay but a bit shaken. She'd indicated right then made a last minute swerve left, hitting a car coming up the inside.

Catherine Delahunty Green Party car crash
Catherine Delahunty's car after the crash (Dan Pannett/Newshub.)

The car's suffered a minor ding, but it's not driveable.

The scientist

While we wait for Catherine to arrive, I interview freshwater ecologist Professor Russell Death.

I ask about the WaiNZ water sensor the Greens have been heralding. Will this help with freshwater monitoring?

Not really, he says. It doesn't monitor the important things like invertebrates, periphyton and nutrients.

Wait, what?

Founder of WaiNZ Grant Muir counters, saying Professor Death has misunderstood the device and its capabilities, and it's actually probably far superior to the devices he uses for testing.

Wai Water Wand
The Wai Water Wand (Newshub.)

Perhaps someone from the Greens should've talked to their guests to make sure everyone was on the same page.

Because what could've been a story about a game-changing gadget to assist communities in testing their waterways was stymied by an independent expert.

When it came time to demonstrate the sensor, it turned out the school kids had already gone back to school.

So, a river visit to a relatively clean stretch of river, no photo opportunities of school kids helping test the water, and a scientist questioning the efficacy of the prize gadget.

What a mess.

It should have been a cruise for a party that wants to be in Government, that identifies itself as a champion for the environment, that wants to engage the public on an issue.

Especially when New Zealanders care about the state of their rivers, lakes and streams now more than ever.

And yet the Green Party can't organise a river visit at a river.

Isobel Ewing is a Newshub political reporter.