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Government sets new clean water target

NZ Newswire logoNZ Newswire 23/02/2017

<span style="font-size:13px;">The government aims to have 90 per cent of lakes and rivers safe for swimming by 2040, Environment Minister Nick Smith says New Zealand will be a world leader.</span> © Mark Coote/Bloomberg The government aims to have 90 per cent of lakes and rivers safe for swimming by 2040, Environment Minister Nick Smith says New Zealand will be a world leader. The government aims to have 90 per cent of lakes and rivers safe for swimming by 2040.

Environment Minister Nick Smith has just announced a raft of measures to achieve that.

He says it's estimated the goal will cost the government, farmers and councils $2 billion over the next 23 years.

The plan is backed by national regulations requiring stock to be fenced out of waterways and new rules on sewage that councils must follow.

About 10,000km of waterways will have to be cleaned up.

The previous policy of making rivers safe for wading has been replaced with making them safe for swimming.

The new guideline is based on a safety limit of 540 E. coli per 100ml of water.

About 72 per cent of waterways currently meet that level.

The Greens are accusing the government of "pulling a fast one" by simply re-labelling the standard from wading to swimming, but a spokeswoman for Dr Smith told NZ Newswire that's not so.

She said the 540 level had always been there for swimming, and the safety level for wading was twice that.

Dr Smith told reporters after making his announcement: "The Ministry of Health guideline is 540 E. coli per 100ml of water, wadeable is 1100 E. coli count - in other words, the swimmable standard is half the level."

He says the new policy recognises that Kiwis expect to be able to take a dip in their local river or lake without getting a nasty bug, and the new policy will make New Zealand a world leader in water quality standards for swimming.

"It will return our rivers and lakes to a standard not seen in 50 years while recognising that our frequent major rainfalls mean a 100 per cent standard is not realistic," he said.

Dr Smith says the approach aligns closely with the way European countries and the US assess suitability for swimming.

Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy says farmers are ready for the challenge of putting up 56,000km of fences.

"That's enough to go round the world one and a half times," he said.

"We know that stock standing in or regularly crossing waterways can do significant damage.

"While dairy farmers have voluntarily fenced off around 96 per cent of their waterways, we want to extend this to other types of farms as well."

Federated Farmers says the target is ambitious but doable.

"Very early feedback suggests fresh water in some regions can be improved and restored in relatively short timeframes," said water spokesman Chris Allen.

"This is entirely doable if everyone plays their part... now we need better science and monitoring processes to really nail what we need to work on."

Labour leader Andrew Little says Dr Smith has announced a policy Labour promised in 2008.

"It's a jaw-dropping display of political hypocrisy," he said.

WHAT THEY'RE SAYING ABOUT THE GOVERNMENT'S GOAL OF MAKING 90 PER CENT OF LAKES AND RIVERS SAFE FOR SWIMMING BY 2040

* "It will return our rivers and lakes to a standard not seen in 50 years while recognising that our frequent major rainfalls mean a 100 per cent standard is not realistic." - Environment Minister Nick Smith

* "The reforms will result in 56,000km more fences protecting New Zealand's waterways." - Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy

* "In a jaw-dropping display of political hypocrisy the government has announced a fresh water policy that was promised by Labour in 2008." - Labour leader Andrew Little

* "What was once only safe for wading is now to be considered safe for swimming." - Green Party water spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty

* "Nick Smith's target of swimmable rivers by 2040 is a massive backdown from saying just a year ago that it wasn't practical." - NZ First leader Winston Peters.

* "We need to be looking out for future generations while ensuring New Zealanders today can have maximum enjoyment of our unique environment." - United Future leader Peter Dunne

* "All they're proposing is that the current situation is maintained." - Forest and Bird's chief executive Kevin Hague.

* "This is entirely doable if everyone plays their part." - Federated Farmers' water spokesman Chris Allen.

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