New Zealanders deserve swimmable rivers, not excuses.

Is the Government doing all it can to improve water quality?

Geoff SimmonsEnvironment7 Comments

Last night Environment Minister Nick Smith delivered the annual environment lecture at Lincoln University.

Minister Smith reiterated that he felt having swimmable rivers and lakes is an unrealistic goal, despite that being the preference of the majority of New Zealanders. To illustrate his point Minister Smith held up the red herring of birds causing high E. coli levels, and reducing them would require a cull. In some specific areas he might be right, but he is overlooking the far bigger issue of farming across the country. For example our national herd creates over 30 times the sewage as our human population.

Instead the Minister pointed out that the Government is focused on improving the quality of our freshwater. There aren’t many successes that the Minister can point to from the work of the Government so far. And they have made no progress on the crucial issue – that some catchments simply have too many cows. Even if we fence and plant the waterways to take care of the E. coli issue, in some catchments too much nitrogen ends up in our rivers. This is the nettle that the Government and Regional Councils need to grasp, but meanwhile intensification of farming continues. In fact the Government is subsidising it by helping create irrigation and not charging farmers for the water they use and pollute.

Should the public believe the Government is really doing all it can to improve the quality of rivers? Here is the perspective of Massey University Freshwater Ecology scientist Professor Russell Death.

Is the Government doing all it can to improve water quality? was last modified: August 31st, 2016 by Geoff Simmons
About the Author

Geoff Simmons

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Geoff Simmons is an economist working for the Morgan Foundation. Geoff has an Honours degree from Auckland University and over ten years experience working for NZ Treasury and as a manager in the UK civil service. Geoff has co-authored three books alongside Gareth.

7 Comments on “Is the Government doing all it can to improve water quality?”

  1. I went to our candidates meeting this week and nailed the environment candidate and asked with all the money they take for Horizons why dont they making the farmers fence off there land from streams and rivers Her reply was ” I swim in the Manawatu in summer when it is down ” I thought that was a typical “We dont want to rock the boat ” reply I know who to vote for now
    Fonterra has too much power in NZ we need some government to stop looking after their mates, and face up to the big issues

  2. We used to be able to swim in rivers so to say birds are the issue seems a little odd. I am pro business and pro farming and pro environmental enhancement. It does not need to be one or other it can be both if we just thought harder and smarter. Minister Smith seems to have given up on that idea.

  3. These photos were taken in 2012 on the Whakapara River that flows on to join the Wairua River and on down to the Kaipara moana. After some five ERP-A reports over three years the Whangarei District Council finally instructed the farmers concerned to fence off or remove your stock from these WDC leased levy banks on the Hikurangi Swamp. However our Norhland Regional Council has released their new policy saying beef farms have to 2025 to fence off.So the contrast is that they, the NRC sanction what is seen in these photos. They have done nothing and still will do nothing till 2025. Wearas the Whangarei District Council made the hard call and now the banks over some 25 klm are stock free and we have lots of growth on the banks. What kind of message does the over arching Northland Regional Council send when they say to all our Northland beef farmers – its ok to farm like this. These cattle were literally poisoning our catchment with feted putrid excrement and urine muck that goes down to smother the food basket (our kite) of Aotearoa. We have many other beef farmers still farming like this and they actually have a right to farm in this manner – its lawful. Beef are now taking the place of dairy on our waterways. This is not acceptable Minister, this is not sustainable. We expose ourselves to great risk to human life to go any where near this water and our great fishery nurseries will not survive these conditions. Birds are nowhere near a problem as a one tonne beast that craps10 litres and urinates 12 litres a day at their favorite spot on our river and stream banks
    Millan Ruka – Environment River Patrol-Aotearoa. .

  4. Cattle on river and stream banks way up in the Hikurangi Swamp and Whakapara River have a devastating effect on the ecology and sustainability of the Kaipara Harbour some 80 klm down river.

  5. I don’t think the Natz are doing all they could to protect freshwater. There is a very good reason – they don’t want to.
    They operate under a resource consumption ethos, not a resource protection approach.

    So let no-one expect concepts like environmental stewardship to be bandied around the Cabinet table; it’s a case of seeing how much pollution they can get away with to keep the farmers on side and voting National.

    But the Havelock North debacle has upped the ante hugely. Water is going to be an election issue. It will be interesting to see how the government tries to deal with a problem they badly want to sweep under the rug, when the issue is out of their control.

  6. It’s quite ironic that Smith says its unrealistic to expect swimmable rivers, yet without consultation or consideration he closed off the Kermadec fishing zone when there was no evidence of any environmental threat and the area is subject to benthic protection under a protocol initiated by the fishing industry. The reality is farmers are a larger lobby group than fishers and he is prepared to undermine the fishing industry to curry a few green votes. His hubris is breathtaking.

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