Nadine Higgins: We're up an unswimmable creek without a paddle
OPINION: Every summer for the past few years I've taken my dog down to the Tutaekuri river, near where I grew up in Napier.
He loves it, dive-bombing off the bank and behaving like a petulant child when you tell him it's time to go home.
Except this year, we didn't go anywhere near any Hawke's Bay river because a dog died after swimming in the nearby Tukituki river.
A toxic algae that can kill animals within half an hour claimed the poor thing's life and the river joined the long list of others that weren't swimmable over summer.
The late John Clarke wrote in The Listener a few years ago "If you'd like to enjoy the beautifully clean, swift-flowing New Zealand river system, you should make every effort to get out there before the dairy industry gets any more successful".
I think that window has now closed. Yet another report this week confirmed we've trashed our waterways. More rivers are declining than improving. Nitrate levels are rising. It's our fault but there's seems to be little urgency to do that.
That is a national shame, but also National's shame.
The Government's approach to water quality has been about as upfront and effective as its approach to the housing crisis.
First step, emphatically deny there's a crisis and if that fails, change the definition to make it look like you're making things better. Lowering the bar of what's considered swimmable is about the same as deciding you need only 40 per cent not 80 per cent to be an A-grade student – it doesn't make you any smarter.
The Land and Water Forum, designed to advise Government on water policy, has been bleeding members who say their advice is being ignored.
Throw in the Government's long-stated aim to double agricultural exports by 2025 and we're heading up an unswimmable creek without a paddle.
Water quality should be a massive issue this election. Some friends, who are the kind of dyed-in-the-wool National supporters who call everyone else a loony leftie, now say water quality will guide their vote and it can't possibly go to National.
Consider this finding from the OECD: If economic growth accounted for the cost of pollution, our GDP would be declining. It's a nonsense to suggest we can't do more for fear of putting our economy at risk, because not doing enough is already putting our economy at risk.
This is not an attack on farmers. Townies and big business must shoulder some of the blame, but you can't escape the impact of farming when half the country's land mass is used for agriculture.
Even if Fonterra redirected all the cash it spends on leveraging Richie McCaw's fine reputation and every farmer became an eco warrior it would be an uphill battle to combat massive intensification.
This debate is not environmentalists versus capitalists and townies versus countryfolk. Both are just ways to make excuses and shift the blame.
It's actually about life or death. For now of a poor dog, but much more is at stake.
- Sunday Star Times