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Government denies lowering water standards

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 23/02/2017

The government is rejecting claims by clean water activists that it is lowering the standard for safe swimming so it can achieve its new target.

Environment Minister Nick Smith announced on Thursday the goal was to have 90 per cent of lakes and rivers safe for swimming by 2040.

The plan is backed by national requirements for stock to be fenced out of waterways and there are new rules on sewage that councils must follow.

It was immediately attacked by the Greens, clean water groups and some scientists who said the safe swimming standard that's being used - 540 E. coli per 100ml of water - was much lower than the previous standard of 260 E. coli.

They said it would mean more contamination in rivers and a greater chance of people becoming ill from swimming in them.

Dr Smith has issued a statement saying they're wrong.

"Claims by some organisations that the government's proposed standards for improving water quality are lower, and accept a higher chance of infection, are wrong," he said.

"The 2003 Ministry of Health guideline of not swimming when the level exceeds 540 E. coli/100ml remains."

Dr Smith sais there was confusion because standards for wadeability and swimmability are being mixed up.

"The 260, 540 and 1000 E. coli annual medians are all in respect of the wadeable standard," he said.

The government's critics have also seized on the swimmable target being based on meeting the water quality standard for 80 per cent of the time.

Dr Smith says a 100 per cent target wouldn't be realistic.

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