Iwi leaders say new freshwater standards are money over mana

New standards may mean degraded local waterways would be classed as 'swimmable'.

New standards may mean degraded local waterways would be classed as 'swimmable'.

Fresh water advocate Murray Palmer.

IWI leaders have called out the Government over its new fresh water standards, saying they allow regional councils to put economics over improving water quality.

The new standards could also mean degraded waterways in Tairawhiti would be classed as “swimmable”, while pristine swimming holes risked degradation.

The Clean Water document aims to make 90 percent of New Zealand’s rivers and lakes swimmable, but has come under fire for more than doubling the amount of allowable faecal bacteria (E. coli).

Previously a river or lake was graded an A for swimming if E coli tests showed less than 260 parts per 100ml of water 95 percent of the time.

The new threshold for "swimmable" has been set at 540/100ml, with a blue “excellent” rating for achieving this 95 percent of the time, green “good” for 90-95 percent, and yellow “fair” for 80-90 percent.

At and above 540 there is a one in 20 chance of people contracting a campylobacter infection. Under the new standards this would be acceptable in waterways up to 20 percent of the time.

The document also directs regional councils to consider economic effects of decisions about water quantity and water quality improvements when establishing freshwater objectives.

Opposed to inclusion

Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group leader Rahui Papa said they oppose this inclusion, and any changes that reduce the continuous and marked improvement of waterways.

“If decision makers are required to balance the economic drivers against environmental in terms of water quality, the wai (water) will always lose," he said.

“The group supports water quality first being sacrosanct then when our water standards are achieved, then we can look at economic factors.”

The group, which was consulted on the document before its release, supports the document’s suggestion to further clarify Te Mana o te Wai and a new objective and policy requiring regional councils to consider and recognise Te Mana o Te Wai when giving effect to the Freshwater National Policy Statement.

“Te Mana o te Wai is understanding that the first right to the water goes to the water itself,” Mr Papa said.

“We are secondary, and we as a country need to change how we live to ensure sustainable economic development that does not sacrifice our beautiful landscape while still achieving the social and cultural aspirations of our many communities.

“These changes help support our councils to reflect that in all decision making.”

Group advisor Tina Porou said there would be costs to improving water quality, such as restoring waterways through planting or change in water use, and the group did not want those to come before cultural and environmental values, encompassed by Te Mana o te Wai.

“It could be the economic costs of fixing the Waiapu. We are not anti-development. Maori are in farming, forestry and fishing. We understand the economic benefits, we just want Te Mana o Te Wai to be a stronger focus.”

Tangata whenua

The idea is that tangata whenua and communities around the country will work out what it means for them to protect their catchment and waterways.

It would be different for each, but with universal principles of improving water quality and being able to swim, fish and enjoy fresh water.

“New Zealanders typically want those values protected and this is a way to do that.”

Gisborne fresh water advocate Murray Palmer said the new standards were unclear and could potentially put people’s health at risk.

His main concern was raising the level of E. coli deemed “swimmable” from 260 to 540 parts per 100ml.

“The difference between 540 and 550, which is currently deemed a trigger level for public notification and warning signs to be put up, could be a sampling error,” Mr Palmer said.

“They have made the minimum water quality level now the acceptable standard. You cannot just do this when people’s health is at stake.”

Waterways that might seem unswimmable could now be classed as “swimmable”, and other pristine areas might be allowed to degrade.

The Taruheru River at Tucker Road has an E coli median of less than 353/100ml, and so would be swimmable under the new guidelines.

“But nobody would swim there now,” Mr Palmer said.

“Other rivers closer to the city, such as Turanganui and Waimata, are important recreational areas. Waka ama is considered a contact recreation, so we need to be really serious about water quality here.

“Is it acceptable to have a one in 20 chance of getting seriously ill in these areas some of the time?”

Other pristine areas could be degraded, such as the popular swimming holes along Urukokomuka, a tributary of Mangatu.

“It is totally unacceptable that Urukokomuka could have its water degraded to a level of the Taruheru at Tucker Road without becoming a concern for the powers that be.

“To me it is not about making aspirational targets, it is about health risk and the need for clear guidelines to help ensure that people won’t get sick undertaking basic recreational and cultural activities.”

IWI leaders have called out the Government over its new fresh water standards, saying they allow regional councils to put economics over improving water quality.

The new standards could also mean degraded waterways in Tairawhiti would be classed as “swimmable”, while pristine swimming holes risked degradation.

The Clean Water document aims to make 90 percent of New Zealand’s rivers and lakes swimmable, but has come under fire for more than doubling the amount of allowable faecal bacteria (E. coli).

Previously a river or lake was graded an A for swimming if E coli tests showed less than 260 parts per 100ml of water 95 percent of the time.

The new threshold for "swimmable" has been set at 540/100ml, with a blue “excellent” rating for achieving this 95 percent of the time, green “good” for 90-95 percent, and yellow “fair” for 80-90 percent.

At and above 540 there is a one in 20 chance of people contracting a campylobacter infection. Under the new standards this would be acceptable in waterways up to 20 percent of the time.

The document also directs regional councils to consider economic effects of decisions about water quantity and water quality improvements when establishing freshwater objectives.

Opposed to inclusion

Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group leader Rahui Papa said they oppose this inclusion, and any changes that reduce the continuous and marked improvement of waterways.

“If decision makers are required to balance the economic drivers against environmental in terms of water quality, the wai (water) will always lose," he said.

“The group supports water quality first being sacrosanct then when our water standards are achieved, then we can look at economic factors.”

The group, which was consulted on the document before its release, supports the document’s suggestion to further clarify Te Mana o te Wai and a new objective and policy requiring regional councils to consider and recognise Te Mana o Te Wai when giving effect to the Freshwater National Policy Statement.

“Te Mana o te Wai is understanding that the first right to the water goes to the water itself,” Mr Papa said.

“We are secondary, and we as a country need to change how we live to ensure sustainable economic development that does not sacrifice our beautiful landscape while still achieving the social and cultural aspirations of our many communities.

“These changes help support our councils to reflect that in all decision making.”

Group advisor Tina Porou said there would be costs to improving water quality, such as restoring waterways through planting or change in water use, and the group did not want those to come before cultural and environmental values, encompassed by Te Mana o te Wai.

“It could be the economic costs of fixing the Waiapu. We are not anti-development. Maori are in farming, forestry and fishing. We understand the economic benefits, we just want Te Mana o Te Wai to be a stronger focus.”

Tangata whenua

The idea is that tangata whenua and communities around the country will work out what it means for them to protect their catchment and waterways.

It would be different for each, but with universal principles of improving water quality and being able to swim, fish and enjoy fresh water.

“New Zealanders typically want those values protected and this is a way to do that.”

Gisborne fresh water advocate Murray Palmer said the new standards were unclear and could potentially put people’s health at risk.

His main concern was raising the level of E. coli deemed “swimmable” from 260 to 540 parts per 100ml.

“The difference between 540 and 550, which is currently deemed a trigger level for public notification and warning signs to be put up, could be a sampling error,” Mr Palmer said.

“They have made the minimum water quality level now the acceptable standard. You cannot just do this when people’s health is at stake.”

Waterways that might seem unswimmable could now be classed as “swimmable”, and other pristine areas might be allowed to degrade.

The Taruheru River at Tucker Road has an E coli median of less than 353/100ml, and so would be swimmable under the new guidelines.

“But nobody would swim there now,” Mr Palmer said.

“Other rivers closer to the city, such as Turanganui and Waimata, are important recreational areas. Waka ama is considered a contact recreation, so we need to be really serious about water quality here.

“Is it acceptable to have a one in 20 chance of getting seriously ill in these areas some of the time?”

Other pristine areas could be degraded, such as the popular swimming holes along Urukokomuka, a tributary of Mangatu.

“It is totally unacceptable that Urukokomuka could have its water degraded to a level of the Taruheru at Tucker Road without becoming a concern for the powers that be.

“To me it is not about making aspirational targets, it is about health risk and the need for clear guidelines to help ensure that people won’t get sick undertaking basic recreational and cultural activities.”

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Joe Ryland - 15 days ago
The way forward with waterways is backwards. Back to a time when we didn't pollute them.
Stop pollution, have clean water. It's simple.

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