Greens stir up dirty water issue

01:42, Jul 22 2014
Water-quality monitoring occurs on large rivers close to towns, like the Manawatu, which had a banks clean-up last year.
DIRTY BANKS: Water-quality monitoring occurs on large rivers close to towns, like the Manawatu, which had a banks clean-up last year.

Instead of attacking policy that will massively improve New Zealand water quality, the Green Party would be more credible if it showed a lot more bipartisan leadership in supporting that policy.

The new National Policy Statement (NPS) of Freshwater actually requires regional councils to maintain or improve water quality while giving the wider community the choice of how far they want to go to improve our lakes and rivers.

If the community wants to ensure that certain rivers and lakes are safe for swimming then that is supported within the NPS. But the NPS also requires they be fully informed as to the effect upon jobs, rates and their local economy, when making that choice.

A file photo of Manawatu River water being tested at Foxton Beach by a member of the Horizons Regional Council science team.
TESTING TIME: A file photo of Manawatu River water being tested at Foxton Beach by a member of the Horizons Regional Council science team.

To leap into swimming as the gold standard for all, without some sort of exceptions regime, will likely cost urban ratepayers massively in the pocket.

This Green Party policy intent shows a lack of integrity. It cannot be implemented fairly without a huge cost to society and will likely only end up being implemented in rural areas instead of all waterways.

In other words, it will let off the hook some of our most polluted waterways, like Wellington's Waiwhetu Stream and Christchurch's Avon, yet insist on higher standards for our rural streams and rivers. This is cynical lip service to comprehensively addressing water quality.

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If this is truly a water quality policy then it fails to address the fact that more than half of the water-quality monitoring sites are within 2 kilometres of urban areas and 90 per cent are within 10 kilometres.

The Greens may say the NPS is too soft and they would be harder, excepting of course, those areas where most of its supporters are. A soft exemption regime excusing urban water bodies is playing pork barrel politics with water and really questions their environmental integrity.

The claim that two-thirds of our waterways are too polluted to swim shows little regard for facts. The Dominion Post recently used the "60 per cent" figure in an editorial that drew a rebuke from the Ministry for the Environment, which described the figure as repeating fiction.

As the ministry's Guy Beatson has pointed out, "most monitoring occurs on large rivers near towns. Around 60 per cent of monitored sites may be considered poor or very poor for swimming, but these monitored sites are not representative and should not be scaled up to make conclusions about the health risk in all of New Zealand's waters".

Between 1999 and 2008, the Green Party was in pole position to push for minimum standards but didn't. Political theatrics like this now doesn't do much for its credibility, when, for the first time ever, there are national bottomlines in the new NPS for freshwater.

If they genuinely cared about the environment, the Greens would show some moral fortitude, show some bipartisanship and back what is arguably the leading legislation protecting water quality of its kind, anywhere in the world.

Instead, it is targeting one section of the community for politicisation.

The important thing about having minimum standards for water is that the Government has resisted any attempt to have them set at a level, which would shut down the economy. We can summarise the Green's policy track as, "if it moves, tax it and if it doesn't, subsidise it".

Contrary to how the Green Party has painted it, what we now face with the NPS, for the first time ever, carries significant implications for agriculture. Farmers and our stock need good water quality but to be truly equitable, town and country have to be in the same boat.

That's why the Green Party needs to get off its high horse and onto the policy bus instead.

* Ian MacKenzie is a spokesman for Federated Farmers.