Summer's coming, the temperature's heating up, but if you were thinking of swimming at your local river it might be safer to put your togs away. To quote a movie that still scares the heck out of me... "GET OUT OF THE WATER!!!"
No this summer it isn't shark attacks that swimmers need to get out of the water for, it's something far more insidious. Swallowing water from our rivers containing "faecal micro-organisms" and other bacteria can result in a huge range of health effects, including vomiting, diarrhoea and infections of eyes, ears, your nose or throat. BLEGH.
Last month I blogged about the sad state of affairs when it comes to our freshwater resources.
This morning I woke up to two headlines blaring out at me. First was the revelation from a Ministry for the Environment report that 52 per cent of all of our monitored recreational swimming spots are graded as 'poor' or 'very poor' with regard to water quality (actually, it's worse than this, since another 28 per cent are graded as 'fair' - which is a category that still puts people at risk of illness from swimming in those places).
The second headline was about the Conservation Minister refusing to engage in the very significant appeal on the landmark Environment Court decision to uphold the Horizons One Plan water rules. Federated Farmers and Horticulture NZ have appealed the decision which ruled in favour of the Horizons Regional Council's rules to protect freshwater from nitrogen run-off impacts.
The High Court appeal is limited to arguing points of law and the Minister of Conservation (via a spokesperson) said that the Minister is "comfortable with leaving these issues to the other parties involved."
Federated Farmers claims the ruling is so tough that farmers will be forced to go elsewhere... but hang on a minute. I do understand (as mentioned in my last water blog) the significance of farming to our economy. Like many New Zealanders, I come from a farming family and some of my fondest memories are from my time spent on my Nana's farm down South. I now live in the country, surrounded by farmland and am proud to have a rural delivery address. BUT...
It is time to get real. We have had study after study confirming that the health of our lakes and rivers is on a downward spiral. We know what causes it. Intensification of farming is one of the major causes (as much as it hurts us to acknowledge this) as well as urban pollution.
The sewage contamination in Christchurch's Avon and Heathcote rivers is well-known, and the quakes haven't helped the situation. Whitebaiters who have continued to fish there have been bringing in whitebait catches with five times more than the 'acceptable' limit of faecal coliforms in them, with one diehard (could be an apt description) whitebaiter claiming they were fine to eat as long as you washed them. Personally, I'm not sure that any faecal coliforms in my whitebait (or swimming) spot would be that acceptable to me.
I had to google "faecal coliforms" to see what one looked like. Oh yep, that looks pretty gross -->
Can't we all just stop the finger-pointing, responsibility-ducking and denial? Can't we just take a big breath, and say "Our rivers are full of crap. Let's do something about it." Can we do it soon before we lose the last of our freshwater fish (remember, two-thirds of all native fish headed for extinction by 2050)? Can we stop filibustering by calling for 'more science' and by appealing decisions in the court which are about protecting our freshwater resources?
The weather's warming up - and it looks like we might be in for a long hot summer. Personally, I'd really like to be able to throw my togs on and go for a swim in my local river. Can we please pull our fingers out of our ears, take the clothespeg of our nose and start working together for real and proper outcomes (not talk fests) so that me and Nemo can go for a swim and so that I can do the same with my children and grandchildren far into the future?
Is your local river still safe to swim in? Have you ever gotten sick from swimming at the river? How do you feel about the state of our freshwater?