Water rally lobbies to strengthen safeguards for future generations

Blenheim Save Our Water rally organiser Frith Chamberlain says the protection of aquifers and fresh water supplies ...
DEREK FLYNN/FAIRFAX NZ

Blenheim Save Our Water rally organiser Frith Chamberlain says the protection of aquifers and fresh water supplies should be paramount for all levels of government.

If water quality is a concern now, Frith Chamberlain worries what will be left for the people of tomorrow.

The Havelock woman says a national decline of water quality warrants immediate action and will take to the streets in Marlborough to voice the issue.

She has organised the Save Our Water Blenheim rally for Tuesday, and says an environmental impact has been evident over her lifetime.

Twenty years ago and she loved swimming in rivers. Now, she says waters are so toxic she would not even wade in.​

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"And that's only 20 years, imagine what it is like in another 20?" she said.

"If you don't have clean water supplies, far out, we're not future-proofing.

"Every species should look at what they're leaving for their children."

The protest would focus on the protection of aquifers and fresh water supplies in Marlborough, which Chamberlain said were under threat from the agricultural and viticultural sectors.

Environment Minister Nick Smith announced a plan in February to make 90 per cent of rivers and lakes around New Zealand 'swimmable' by 2040.

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The proposal had been slammed by environmental groups, who accused the Government of shifting the goal posts around what 'swimmable' means.

The Taylor River, in central Blenheim, would be rated 'swimmable' under the new freshwater guidelines, a decision at odds with the 'Suitability for Contact Recreation Grade' where the river was given the lowest possible grade of 'very poor' last year.

The poor water quality of rivers was a concern of the rally and additional legislative safeguards were needed to protect water for future generations, Chamberlain said.

She said the major water issues facing Marlborough related to the winery industry, with risks around grape marc and tanalised post run-off leaching into waterways.

"I think people realise this is an issue in Marlborough, but probably have the mindset that it is too big for them," she said.

"Most community members feel this is too big for them to tackle on their own. That's what this is about, showing that we have a voice together."

The rally would meet at Seymour Square from midday, directly across from the offices of the Marlborough District Council.

Council chief executive officer Mark Wheeler had agreed to meet with the protesters and explain how the region's water was being managed.

Council environmental science and monitoring manager Alan Johnson said water quality and quantity was taken very seriously, as outlined by last year's Marlborough Environment Plan.

He refuted that tanalised post run-off reached waterways but noted there had been prosecutions of illegal grape marc disposal.

Kaikoura MP Stuart Smith said he suspected water quality would be an election issue for some but noted that Marlborough had a good track record.

"This is something to keep an eye on and keep our efforts up to ensure we have good practice all along the river banks," he said.

"Water quality requires constant monitoring, it's not just something you tick off a list.

"There is no doubt that water quality can always be improved."

Smith would attend parliament on Tuesday and was unable to attend the rally.

The Blenheim rally was one of 20 to be held nationally by the New Zealand Water Forum on Tuesday.

It was unknown how many people would attend the Marlborough protest, but Chamberlain said it would be a peaceful, non-formal gathering.

"Bring your placards. It's not about getting aggressive or shouting, this is to encourage a better way," she said.

 - The Marlborough Express

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