South Cantabrians rally in Timaru over water quality concerns

TETSURO MITOMO/FAIRFAX NZ

A number of people attended to join the water protest march at the front of Timaru District Council building.

Charlie Wilson held a sign sporting a slogan his grandmother hoped he would never need to ask.

"Will I ever swim in a river?" his placard read.

Charlie, 3, was outside the Timaru District Council building on Tuesday, a small and young part of a 100 person-strong protest which had a nationwide reach.

Protesters listen to speeches during a water quality rally outside Timaru District Council.
TETSURO MITOMO/FAIRFAX NZ

Protesters listen to speeches during a water quality rally outside Timaru District Council.

There were rallies at 19 centres around the country, all seeking to convince the Government to maintain high water quality standards.

Charlie held his placard as some of those gathered - many chanting "What do we want? Clean water. When do we want it? Now" - spoke of their fears for freshwater's future.

Among them was Charlie's grandmother, Merren George. The Pleasant Point woman was concerned Charlie would never know what it was to swim in a river during the holidays.

Charlie Nelson, 3, was one of about 100 people attending a water protest outside of Timaru District Council.
TETSURO MITOMO/FAIRFAX NZ

Charlie Nelson, 3, was one of about 100 people attending a water protest outside of Timaru District Council.

The Government's new water standards, which opponents say water down previous standards, would not translate to truly swimmable rivers, she said.

"Twenty years ago we used to spend a lot of time down at the Tengawai and Opihi rivers with my children, we would practically live at the river, we couldn't afford to go anywhere else," she said.

But, over that 20 years the rivers had gone from "clean and usable" to "unswimmable". It was difficult to trust the new standards, George said.

The Government says the new standards will underpin a plan to make 90 per cent of New Zealand's waterways swimmable by 2040.

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The standard allows for 540 E.coli units per 100 millilitres of water in "swimmable" water. Previously, the comparable standard was 260 units of E coli per 100ml.

A river would be considered swimmable if it met the standard 80 per cent of the time. Eighty per cent of Canterbury rivers and lakes are considered swimmable.

As the rally made its way to the Landing Services building, Brian Walls suggested an alternative measure that would have an immediate effect on water quality in South Canterbury.

"They should ban the use of artificial nitrogen.

"The idea they have set a standard and are going to try to abide by it is absolute hogwash, they have halved the standard."

Things had evolved and people had to adapt, he said.

Thai Ong, who has lived in Geraldine for 42 years, told the crowd New Zealanders would be drinking bottled water if there was no change in attitudes toward water quality.

"In 2020 they (Singapore) will be self sufficient. They have plans but we don't," he warned, explaining Singapore was transforming grey water, from washing machines, into drinkable water.

Timaru Save Our Water Rally event organiser Solomon Tor-Kilsen said clear water was associated with being a New Zealander.

The new "swimmable" standard was one of several things, including land use changes and groundwater being sold for profit, that risked the country's clean water image.

"Water is a big part of New Zealand and it affects every generation."

The Christchurch rally was held outside Environment Canterbury's offices, while the Dunedin rally was held outside the Otago Regional Council offices.

The rallies were co-ordinated by NZ Water Forum, formerly Bung the Bore, which on Tuesday presented a 16,286 signature-strong petition outside Parliament.

The petition, presented to Labour MP David Parker, sought to place a moratorium on fresh water exports.

It had its wellspring in the group's work opposing the establishment of a water extraction and bottling plant in Ashburton.

 - Stuff

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