Greens want you to go swimming

03:10, Jul 13 2014

A protected rivers network is among the The Green Party's plan to improve New Zealand's water quality.

Party co-leader Dr Russel Norman launched the party policy as one of its top "environmental priorities", leading up to the September 20 election.

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

"The protected rivers network will stop the destruction of rivers from irrigation, dams, and pollution, while retaining the right of New Zealanders to use the rivers for food gathering and recreation," the policy said.

It's the first in a number of environmental policies the party will launch under its "cleaner environment" priority. Two other key priority areas, which will shape the Greens' campaign, are set to be announced over the coming weeks. 

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


"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 policy also outlines a plan to clean up many rivers to make them safe for New Zealanders to swim in again.

"The Green Party will overhaul and strengthen National's weak National Policy Statement for freshwater management [by] implementing a strong National Environmental Standard for water quality..."

Norman said he wanted all rivers and lakes to be clean enough to swim in.

"Unfenced streams, cows in rivers, poor land uses, industrial discharges, and dams and irritations projects are choking waterways, dirtying our drinking water, killing our fish and threatening our wildlife," he said. 

Norman said Prime Minister John Key's National Objective Framework for freshwater neglected to improve water quality.

 "You know we will be welcoming tourists to "100 per cent Pure New Zealand," but warning them please stay in the boat."

He said the National Party's standard to choose toxicity as a threshold for nitrate pollution was an "insult".

"I think we would all agree that once something is toxic, it's often too late." 

But Environment Minister Amy Adams has branded 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 Party, by pursuing polices that would hurt households and damage the creation of new jobs across regional New Zealand for little real gain," she said.

"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."

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.

 "The Government will let communities make the call about whether particular rivers and lakes should be suitable for swimming all the time, rather than be dictated to by politicians in Wellington," Adams said.

The Greens' policy also identified both Labour's and The National's parties plan to roll out "the red carpet" for foreign oil companies were putting at beaches at risk.

Norman recalled the Rena oil spill on Tauranga's coast and said the government has "done nothing to prevent this tragedy again". 

"Not only has it failed to take steps to protect New Zealand from another shipping accident like Rena, but it has made an oil spill in New Zealand more likely by opening up the country to the risks of deep sea drilling."