Under-fire Environment Minister says concerns aren't warranted

Environment Minister Nick Smith at the announcement to clean up New Zealand's waterways at Riverhead.
Lawrence Smith

Environment Minister Nick Smith at the announcement to clean up New Zealand's waterways at Riverhead.

Environment Minister Nick Smith says his new swimmable water quality standards won't see him labelled as the "Muddy Waters Minister" in New Zealand's history books.

Last month the Government announced a target of making 90 per cent of the country's lakes and rivers meet swimmable targets by 2040, with new policy, regulations and the strengthening of the National Water Policy Statement to help reach the goal.

It came under fire with many saying it lowered current standards and Forest & Bird claiming the focus on waters deeper than 40 centimetres excluded 90 per cent of waterways.

Hibiscus Coast hotspot the Orewa River estuary isn't covered by the new standards.
MATTHEW CATTIN/FAIRFAX NZ

Hibiscus Coast hotspot the Orewa River estuary isn't covered by the new standards.

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"The streams that are not covered by the Government's standards are often the places that are popular with local families.

"Given the popularity of many of these rivers and streams, this places Kiwi families at an unacceptable risk of contracting illness," Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague says.

Forest & Bird concern sparked fears for the Long Bay-Okura Marine reserve on the shores of the Okura River.
SUPPLIED

Forest & Bird concern sparked fears for the Long Bay-Okura Marine reserve on the shores of the Okura River.

Rivers of concern cited by Forest & Bird not covered by the swimmable standard on the Hibiscus Coast are the Orewa River, feeding the popular Orewa Estuary, the Okura River which is part of the Long Bay-Okura Marine Reserve and the Weiti River which also feeds into part of the marine reserve.

But Smith says Forest & Bird are factually incorrect and there is no concern New Zealand's waterways will become increasingly polluted and then flow to contaminate the coastline.

As coastal environments the Orewa, Weiti and Okura rivers aren't covered by the freshwater policy and council's have the primary job under law for managing both the coastal environment and fresh water under law, Smith says.

Coastal marine areas like Weiti River are protected by other policies, Nick Smith says.
Raymond Fussell

Coastal marine areas like Weiti River are protected by other policies, Nick Smith says.

The Ministry of Health, under the Labour Government, set the current swimmable standard for E.coli contamination of 540 parts per 100 millilitres in 2003, supported by the Green Party, and the new policy didn't change this, he says.

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"This policy sets for the very first time direction on councils. For the very first time there is a legal obligation on councils to improve there waterways, even those that are not the 40 cm deep."

The swimmable standard will expected to be under the E.coli 540 target 95 per cent of the time with an annual mean of 130 parts per 100ml.

When the latest National Government came to power there were no national standards at all, Smith says.

"There is a legitimate argument as to whether this policy goes fast enough or far enough, but there is no question that it is the most ambitious policy from government around fresh water."

Smith says muddy waters will not be the legacy he leaves New Zealand.

"Quite the opposite. I say quite emphatically that I have done more than any other Minister of the Environment to provide strong national direction around cleaning up our waterways," he says.

 - Stuff

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