Young people, supported by the tourism industry, lead charge for water quality

Marnie Prickett and Geoff Reid of the Choose Clean Water project. They are touring the country campaigning for better ...

Marnie Prickett and Geoff Reid of the Choose Clean Water project. They are touring the country campaigning for better water quality standards.

A group of young Kiwis, backed by the nearly $12 billion tourism industry, are winding their way down the country to expose the state of New Zealand's deteriorating waterways.

The Choose Clean Water group, comprising environmentalists aged between 24 and 32, are part-way through a month-long tour of the country documenting the human toll of polluted rivers and waterways.

They are collecting stories and memories about rivers and lakes from ordinary New Zealanders, and releasing the subsequent short films online.

They will arrive in Canterbury on Tuesday, where they will be speaking to locals about the waterways they live with.

They will also gather support for their petition, which urges the government to enshrine a standard of swimmable, not wadeable, rivers into legislation.

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Some of the stories released so far showed stewardship and care for rivers but most would ultimately reveal how they had been neglected, said spokeswoman Marnie Prickett.

"The stories are negative stories in a lot of cases, because that's where we're at as a country. We haven't been taking good care of our waterways, and that's definitely what's going to come through in the stories.

"We can see how deeply connected people are to their lakes and rivers. It runs much deeper than I could have imagined."

For the group of young environmentalists, much of their support has come from other young people, particularly on social media.

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It has helped them gather 2500 signatures for their petition, which they hope to increase to 10,000 by March.

"Young people are with us, they're fired up. We're young enough that we see what's stretching out before us and what we're going to have to deal with, but we're old enough to remember when two-thirds of our rivers weren't unswimmable. The stakes are high for young people."

Water quality has been a growing issue in Canterbury as recreational water quality slides steadily.

Despite a goal by Environment Canterbury to make 80 per cent of recreational sites swimmable by 2015, just 64 per cent are considered safe.

At the end of 2015, 15 sites had warnings for toxic algae, which can cause sickness to humans and animals.

Several of the stories from the tour direct the blame towards New Zealand's largest industry — dairy.

The tour itself is backed both politically and financially by the Tourism Export Council, positioning tourism, the country's second largest industry, against farming on the topic of water quality.

After a presentation by water ecologist Dr Mike Joy, the council received a mandate from its members to do more about water quality, which it believed could compromise New Zealand's green image.

"Our clean green image has worked as a marketing promise in the past, but if we don't do more to actively live up to it, in 50-100 years' time, there won't be anything to market," said president Martin Horgan.

Its youth wing, the Young Tourism Export Council, agreed, and said its members may not have a future in the industry if the clean, green image isn't restored, said chair Loren Heaphy.

"In a nutshell, we want to see our nation stop treating our waterways like crap, and start thinking about the long term effects on New Zealand's 100 per cent Pure image." 

 - Stuff

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