MP gets out on estuary to launch 'dirty water' tour

Green Party spokesman for Invercargill Dave Kennedy and Green MP Eugenie Sage on the New River Estuary this morning, kicking off the party's annual "dirty water tour''.
Green Party spokesman for Invercargill Dave Kennedy and Green MP Eugenie Sage on the New River Estuary this morning, kicking off the party's annual "dirty water tour''.

Green MP Eugenie Sage launched the party's annual "dirty water tour" at the New River estuary yesterday.

She said while the regional council was making progress on new policy, there needed to be national standards to back up that work.

Ms Sage kayaked the estuary with Invercargill Green Party spokesman Dave Kennedy and Southland Fish & Game manager Maurice Rodway.

Earlier this month an Environment Southland-commissioned report showed the New River estuary and Jacobs River estuary both faced the same fate as the Waituna Lagoon as algae growth and sediment increased.

After a briefing with council staff yesterday, Ms Sage said the day had highlighted the lack of national environmental standards for water quality and the need for them.

"It is invaluable getting out on the estuary and on the rivers, getting to see things first-hand and also coming up to speed with what the local authorities are doing, where the gaps are and what is needed at a national level," Ms Sage said.

"It has been a major catch-up in this region because dairying development has got away.

"For a number of years now Environment Southland has been working to catch up as have all of the other regional councils in New Zealand."

While the council had been making progress, introducing policy such as plan change 13, which meant new dairy farms required a consent, national standards would help back these initiatives up, Ms Sage said.

"There needs to be these strong environmental national standards or what will happen with plan change 13, and other similar initiatives, is they will be contested in the Environment Court region by region," she said.

"We need strong bottom lines and set national environmental standards under the Resource Management Act."

Land use in general, and stormwater and sewage were issues, not just farming, she said.

"If we are going to improve the health of estuaries like New River and Jacobs River we need to tackle that now because the warning signs are severe in terms of the latest ecological reports."

National standards would set limits on the amount of water being taken from rivers and lakes, and the amount of pollution going into them, she said.

She also believed people should be charged for the commercial use of water for things such as irrigation, with the revenue going toward cleanup initiatives.

"There is not enough being done at the national level to support councils and there is the issue too . . . of funding this work."

The lack of national standards was a "major gap" in the final report of the Land and Water Forum, released last week, she said.

Environment Southland chairman Ali Timms agreed there was a need for national environmental standards and said the council had been looking for that for some time.

However, she was encouraged the report finally endorsed regional councils as the managers of water quality and quantity.

"I guess there are a lot of recommendations in there that relate to regional councils but what is worrying is who will pay for us to put those recommendations in place at the same time as the Government is looking for us to be cost-efficient and effective?"

The report contains 67 recommendations, and Ms Timms said many of them described what the council was already doing in its bid to improve water quality in the region.

The Southland Times