Fresh water quality is the latest area to be in the sights of Gareth Morgan and his research organisation The Morgan Foundation. They enlisted a group of 16 scientists to help them review the government’s new fresh water policy.
“We know that Kiwis care about their fresh water,” says Morgan, “we want our streams and rivers to be safe for swimming, fishing and gathering food. So it made sense to look at this issue.”
They found that the fresh water policy was a bit murkier than the Environment Minister let on. While the policy is a step forward, it is not enough to guarantee that the quality of our lakes and rivers will halt their long slide. More work is needed to develop the so-called ‘bottom lines’ and greater investment is needed in information and monitoring. Until we have all this in place we need to manage our water very cautiously.
Like most Morgan Foundation studies, the purpose was to inform the public about the state of the science so they can make up their own mind. Morgan and his team recorded the scientists’ discussions, and used this information to draw their own conclusions, all of which are available on the myriver.org.nz website. In particular Morgan singles two areas where the policy doesn’t live up to public expectations.
“Firstly the policy won’t guarantee it will be safe to swim in rivers, only to wade in them. In other words, don’t slip over” quips Morgan.
“Secondly the requirement to ‘maintain or improve’ waterways has been fudged to apply ‘across a region’ rather than to individual waterways. It’s unclear how this will be measured and monitored.”
According to Morgan “this means the public can’t trust the policy will do what it says on the tin”.
Morgan argues that tightening up the policy so it’s more consistent with what the science tells us is necessary, wouldn’t spell an end to development such as dairy conversions. Potential polluters could show that they either won’t increase pollution, or will offset it by paying to fix problems elsewhere in the catchment. In some circumstances a local community may even decide that they don’t want to swim in a river, or they are happy to trade off water quality for more jobs. But he argues that we should start with the assumption that people want their water to get better, and have the aspiration that they should be able to swim in it.
“In the absence of this, I hope communities and Regional Councils step up to improve every waterway.” says Morgan. “And to help them, I’ve created an app that lets people report water pollution, and it automatically alerts the Council. If you see someone polluting, dob them in.”
For more information and to download the pollution reporting app visit the website: www.myriver.org.nz