Greens push river protection plan

STACEY KIRK AND AMANDA PARKINSON
Last updated 05:00 14/07/2014

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A moratorium to prevent the building of dams on protected rivers and more stringent rules on pollution for farmers are part of the Green Party's new "environment priority" to make rivers clean enough to swim in.

The policy announcement has been welcomed by environmental agencies but slammed as "irresponsible" by the Government.

The policy plans to establish a protected rivers network that will monitor the quality of New Zealand's natural waterways by measuring the impacts of farming run-off and pollution.

Greens co-leader Russel Norman launched the policy yesterday, at an event in Hamilton.

Figures showed nearly two-thirds of New Zealand's monitored river sites were too polluted for swimming, one-third of lakes were unhealthy and three-quarters of native fish were at risk of extinction, Norman said.

"We will implement a strong National Environmental Standard for water quality that requires councils to ensure our rivers and lakes are clean enough for swimming. This will set maximum levels for nitrogen, phosphorus, zinc and other contaminants."

The Government this month set a number of "bottom line" water quality standards, which it says ensures water quality is suitable for ecosystem and human health.

Local councils would have until 2020 to implement the standards, but the Government said it was up to councils to decide whether rivers should be clean enough to swim in.

Norman said his party would overhaul the National Policy Statement for freshwater management. "Unfenced streams, cows in rivers, poor land uses, industrial discharges, and dams and irrigation projects are choking waterways, dirtying our drinking water, killing our fish and threatening our wildlife," he said.

Environment Minister Amy Adams has decried the Greens' policy as "costly and impractical".

"Approaching improvement through blanket bans and requirements for every drainage ditch across New Zealand to be maintained at a swimming pool standard just shows that the Greens have once again confirmed they are the anti-growth part.

"The Greens need to explain where they will find the billions of dollars of costs and lost revenue it could take to make every single centimetre of New Zealand's 425,000 kilometres of rivers and streams suitable for swimming."

Forest and Bird called the policy it a "good step" toward cleaning up New Zealand's rivers. Advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell said current systems for protecting rivers were inadequate.

He welcomed the party's announcement that it would not allow any more wild rivers to be dammed, and that management of river beds would be transferred to the Department of Conservation.

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