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Neglect throws dirt on our rivers

David Shearer – Sugary drinks-David Shearer Web

When I was a child, I cannot remember ever thinking that we could not swim in the water because it was polluted.

Of course, New Zealand’s waterways were clean, why couldn’t they be?

One of the great pleasures of summer for me was being able to swim in the cool waters of our many fabulous rivers.

Our pristine waterways have been long the envy of the world.

We are famous for being ‘100% Pure’ – but the reality is no longer so lovely.

Polluted Rivers

Many of our rivers are now classified ‘wadeable’ – meaning they are too polluted and therefore too dangerous for swimming.

That means rivers that were once filled with children all summer long now instead feature council signs on their banks warnings against swimming. Others are so toxic they are lethal to dogs that drink from them.

Warm weather and the high concentration of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus from intensive farming and other activities have contributed to algae blooms in our rivers.

And, with too much water being pulled out for irrigation and other uses, lower water flows cause the pollution to be more concentrated.

I have not met a New Zealander who does not want all our rivers and streams to be ‘swimmable’ rather than just ‘wadeable.’

Unsafe swimming

Yet by the Government’s own reckoning, almost two-thirds of the rivers and lakes we monitor are of ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ quality. That means they are unsafe for swimming and should be avoided.

That is an appallingly huge proportion. Our Government is happy with that – and even defends it. But to me it’s not good enough.

By making wade-ability – rather than swim-ability – the standard, the Government has given up the goal of clean natural water for our children.

It is putting cows and agricultural pollution ahead of people.

New Zealand can do better.

Other countries have shown how. Sweden, for example, has some of the highest clean water standards in the world. Unlike our low standards, their waterways have to be clean enough to drink.

Youth Representation

A few weeks ago a group of school children from Turangi marched to Parliament to urge the Government to make rivers swimmable.

Good on them. They simply asked to be able to swim in their local rivers – the same local rivers their parents and grandparents swam in when they were children.

We need to listen to them. It is their birth right. We have a responsibility to restore it to them.

David Shearer is an elected Member of Parliament from Mt Albert in Auckland and Labour Party’s spokesman for Foreign Affairs.

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