Emotions run high on Parliament steps over freshwater standards

MONIQUE FORD / Stuff.co.nz

Students calling for New Zealand's rivers and lakes to be swimmable marched on Parliament after a four-day hikoi.

There were tears, there were chants, and a challenge was laid down to the Government.

A host of students marched on the Beehive to present a petition of 13,000 signatures to politicians, calling for all freshwater in New Zealand to be swimmable.

'Wadeable' and 'boatable' are the current standards for freshwater bodies around the country.

10,000 paper drops of water were laid out on Parliament lawn to represent petition signatures.
Rosanna Price/ FAIRFAX NZ

10,000 paper drops of water were laid out on Parliament lawn to represent petition signatures.

Around 150 people gathered on the Parliament forecourt on Tuesday where 10,000 paper water droplets had been placed on the lawn.

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Youth from Te Kura Kaupapa Maori o Whakarewa i te Reo ki Tuwharetoa had travelled on foot from Turangi during the Easter weekend.

An oral poetry performance about freshwater was given on Parliament steps.

An oral poetry performance about freshwater was given on Parliament steps.

Terina Winera, 15, and Kahumako Rameka, 16, were among the students that gave an oral poetry performance on the importance of water. 

The teenagers were concerned about the pollution in their local Lake Taupo.

Winera said 75 per cent of the freshwater fish were threatened with extinction: "They all used to be in our lake, and now you hardly see them."

Students began their Hikoi from Turanga on Friday morning, and arrived at Parliament steps on Tuesday afternoon.
Rosanna Price/ FAIRFAX NZ

Students began their Hikoi from Turanga on Friday morning, and arrived at Parliament steps on Tuesday afternoon.

"Our message is just to look after our water because without it...you can't live without it," Rameka said.

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Gisborne mother and artist Tawera Tahuri  had brought water from her local rivers and lakes to pour on Parliament's steps.

She wept as she talked about the water quality for future generations, including her young son: "I realised that he's going to be left to clean up our mess".

Green Party, Labour Party and Maori Party leaders and MPs greeted the protesters.

Labour leader Andrew Little said the Government's bottom-line was "appalling".

"By the Government's own reckoning, 61% of our monitored waterways are of 'poor' or 'very poor' quality which means they are unsafe for swimming and should be avoided," he said.

"This acceptance of dirty water quality is the reason New Zealand's young people have taken it upon themselves to lobby the Government for higher standards and action."

He said a Labour Government would set minimum swimmable standards.

Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty said it was "rubbish" that water pollution was too expensive to clean up.

100 PER CENT PURE? NOT FRESHWATER

Environment Minister Nick Smith said the Government was more committed than "any in history" to improving water quality.

While he appreciated the petition highlighted the issue, he said it wasn't practical - for example, natural pollutants such as bird excrement and volcanic ash would have to be cleaned up.

"I'm not prepared to go so far as to legislate for every single water body in New Zealand to be swimmable as it's technically unrealistic," he said.

So does the quality of water affect New Zealand's '100 per cent pure' brand? The Minister believed the slogan was still "a great one" and the country's water rated well on an international stage.

However, he said "90 per cent of New Zealand's fresh water is in its pure state, it's not 100 percent".

"I do get quite annoyed with people that want to run down New Zealand's brand in a domestic argument about improving water quality."

MAORI PARTY WANT 'DRINKABLE' STANDARD

Maori Party co-leader Te Ururoa Flavell goes further than wanting freshwater to be swimmable. He wants all freshwater to be drinkable.

"It should be should be drinkable as an element of sustaining giving kai (food)," he said.

It was one of "three principles" the party have argued for, along with being able to swim in the water and to gather food.

"In the end the sustenance of water that gives to every human being is worth spending any amount of money on."

 - Stuff

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