web analytics

The Nats’ new ‘swimmable’ rivers aren’t

Written By: - Date published: 3:08 pm, February 28th, 2017 - 15 comments
Categories: Conservation, farming, farming, sustainability, water - Tags: , , , ,

I’ve been waiting for the dust to settle a bit before wading in to the Nats’ water quality fiasco.

Nick Smith bungled the announcement hugely, allowing the perception that they were going to reach their new goals by allowing twice as much shit in “swimmable” rivers. He then released some incomprehensible statements and called critics “junk science”. Unfortunately the critics are more or less right. An excellent piece on RNZ:

Diving into the muddy water of ‘swimmable’

Previous water quality guidelines had separate criteria for swimming and other activities. A river or lake was graded an A for swimming if tests for the E coli bacterium came back with less than 260 bacteria per 100 ml of water 95 percent of the time.

The criteria for an A for other activities was less strict; the median (middle) value of all the tests taken over a year needed to be less than 260 bacteria per 100 ml. A river or lake got a B if the values were 260-540 E coli, a C if they were 540-1000 and a D if they were over 1000. So, under the old guidelines, some of our lakes or rivers could easily have an A for water sports but a B (or no rating at all) for swimming.

In the government’s new policy document (‘Clean Water’ – PDF, 3.68MB), the threshold number of E coli has been set at 540 bacteria per 100 ml of water. Now to get a blue (“excellent”) rating, the water must have less than 540 E coli for 95 percent of the time.

This is where the government’s new definition of swimmable comes in: blue, green or yellow graded water. In other words, it can be above the threshold for up to 20 percent of the time.

The ‘Clean Water’ document itself is a bit misleading because the new regulations require that at least half the time the E coli levels must be lower than 130 per 100ml, so that the risk of getting Campylobacter is very low – but it can be higher than one in 20 for 20 percent of the time.

What this means is that your chance of getting sick isn’t one in 20 every day. It varies. Sometimes it’s much lower than that and sometimes it’s much higher.

We’ve crunched the numbers so you can see how that risk changes for each of the “swimmable” categories of water. The risk ranges from less than one in 1000 (0.1 percent), to one in 100 (1 percent), one in 20 (5 percent), one in six (15 percent) and even higher.
no metadata

The tricky bit is not knowing which days are which, as water can look perfectly swimmable but still have dangerous levels of Campylobacter in it.

What kind of ‘swimmable’ river is that?

Regional councils are meant to notify the public if the E coli levels go above 260 bacteria per 100 ml, so it looks like it’s worth checking before immersing yourself in any “swimmable” New Zealand rivers and lakes.

What kind of public safety is that?

Under the new standards we have up to a 1 in 6 risk of serious infection at the times that we actually swim in rivers, and Smith is trying to hide this fact by fudging around with year-long averages. So (unsurprisingly) David Parker was bang on yesterday:

Labour’s David Parker calls for ‘swimmable’ test to reflect when and where you take a dip

Yes, he [Smith] has moved the goalposts. He is now classifying as swimmable rivers that would not meet the current understanding of swimmable in New Zealand. It’s not fair for him to say that on the basis it’s a higher standard than wadeability that it’s an adequate standard for swimmability because it’s not. I think there should be a 99 per cent confidence level that you won’t get crook.

A river can exceed the E.coli limit up to 20 per cent of the time and still be graded as swimmable. That is 2.4 months a year. This really irks me. From Christmas until the end of February is less than 20 per cent of the year. River quality generally gets worse in summer when flows are lower and water temperatures are higher. It’s also when most people swim in our rivers. Any standard which ignores that reality is rubbish.

Well worth reading the whole interview.

Smith can rant all he likes, but the fact is that this is where we are:

Unswimmable lagoon now deemed swimmable under revised standards

A waterway that Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith once deemed “impossible” to improve to a swimmable condition would be considered swimmable under proposed new standards.

Several other waterways – including dry shingle beds and rivers with toxic algal blooms – would also meet the swimmable standard, despite clearly being unsuitable for swimming.

Critics have said such instances reveal shortcomings in the way the proposed standards are measured.

Also worth reading, Newshub’s series on water. A lot of the pollution is from general agriculture and urban runoff. This is a complex and serious problem requiring complex and serious solutions. Not Nick Smith.

15 comments on “The Nats’ new ‘swimmable’ rivers aren’t ”

  1. dukeofurl 1

    Im guessing this has all been written by Fonterra and passed on to National, as it doesnt seem that they understand their own policy- a clue that it isnt theirs

    • Jenny Kirk 1.1

      To be fair to Fonterra they’ve put in quite a bit of funding to specific areas over the last couple of years to help farmers fence off their properties and re-vegetate them. Not enough of course, and this is maybe where the govt also has to step in …. but not to the extent of allowing farmers 20 years or so to fix up the problem.

  2. Jenny Kirk 2

    You say ROb that “A lot of the pollution is from general agriculture and urban runoff”.

    But the NewsHub item – while mentioning the Kawerau mill ‘black river’ also states that
    ” This is where the booming dairy and beef industries must take a fair share of the blame for the high levels of nitrogen being put into New Zealand’s waterways – the direct effect of high volumes of cow urine”.

    And certainly up here in the north, the latter appears to be the case. This appears to have increased substantially since the intensification of dairying and beef cattle over the last eight years or so. And more so since the multi-national corporations took over these big farming units.

    Most of the “urban runoff” goes into the sea – usually when its in stormy weather and over-loading the treatment plants. Urban runoff is a different beast to the contamination caused by farming, and is gradually being dealt to by urban local authorities.

    But I agree, Nick Smith is making an absolute fool of himself – he doesn’t know which way is up, and he obviously doesn’t have a clue how to deal with this huge problem.

  3. weka 3

    “A lot of the pollution is from general agriculture and urban runoff. This is a complex and serious problem requiring complex and serious solutions.”

    Maybe. But only because we start from a position of pollute until you get caught/stopped. We can measure until the cows come home but we’re still measuring in the wrong direction.

    If we started from a position of valuing and protecting water ecosystems in their own right, and then you could only use the water and land there if it could be shown that those activities wouldn’t undermine that ecosystem, it would be much more straightforward.

    Te mana o te wai gives mana to the people, in case anyone was thinking how terrible that might be.

  4. dukeofurl 4

    Interesting new fudge over fencing waterways

    “Northland clean river campaigner Millan Ruka is convinced a new category of “dairy support cattle” is helping dairy farmers dodge having to fence their cows off from waterways.”
    Mr Ruka, who carries out Environmental River Patrol Aotearoa (ERPA) kayak monitoring of Northland rivers, said “dairy support” was a new category of cattle classification helping dairy farmers avoid the challenges of the Fonterra clean streams accord.

    “‘Dairy support’ was not a term I had heard used until about three months ago,” he said.
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/the-country/news/article.cfm?c_id=16&objectid=11728217

    Wadeable now becomes swimmable and dairy cows become beef cattle when you are changing definitions rather than cleaning up your act.

    • Jenny Kirk 4.1

      Yes – the NRC is doing a fudge – and its also doing a review of its waterways regulations – again, like the govt, setting a 20-year limit for farmers to get their act together.
      However they’ve called for public submissions and I wouldn’t be surprised if they get quite a few of us cynical types along to challenge their fudge – some time in the next few months. Should be fun !

      • dukeofurl 4.1.1

        The 20 year limit is just a way of ‘creating new facts’ in the streams that they will then say : “Cant be done, you have to loosen the regulations”

  5. keepcalmcarryon 5

    Rub the nats noses in it, there is massive public concern at the trashing of our waterways- thats the whole reason National want to look like they are doing something, their polling clearly shows they are worse than weak here.
    Come on labour, still waiting for that big clear policy on containing/winding back irrigation and dairy expansion.

    • Jenny Kirk 5.1

      David Parker has made a number of public statements, and the Party’s 2014 policy on waterways still stands.
      Labour IS opposed to more dairy expansion, is extremely concerned at what has happened to our waterways over the last eight years, and has ideas on how to resolve that huge contamination within “one generation” – is how they put it. I think that means just a few years.
      If farmers fenced off a buffer zone and revegetated it, then the plant growth would start to use up the nitrates and other nasties leaking into waterways which is causing such a problem. Trouble with the govt’s proposal is they’re giving farmers a lee-way – they don’t really have to do anything for about 20 years. That’s not good enough.

  6. red-blooded 6

    The more I find out about this change in standards the more it smells like shit and starts to make me feel like vomiting. Odd that..!

    This is good reporting, but the problem is that the lightweight media outlets have just run with the good news version of the story: 90% “swimmable” by 2040. That’s certainly the version being run by my local radio station.

  7. roy cartland 7

    An absolute disgrace.

    EVERY river should be safely DRINKABLE to an infant or infirm person 100% of the time. Anything less, and the offending industry or industries shut down immediately. Urban, rural, factory, farm.

    It’s water, FFS!!

  8. JC 8

    Sadly this Post will not receive the Attention it warrants! And /or Deserves!

    Sadly this Post, and many others of the day, (and comments, will only survive a further 24 Hours …

    Sadly most things are ephemeral….

    I’m just Sad about All the effort that’s put in

  9. adam 9

    If Nick is feeling so confident, maybe we should give him a glass of Hutt Valley river water to drink every day.

Links to post

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • Economic boost for Southland marae
    The Government is investing $9 million to upgrade a significant community facility in Invercargill, creating economic stimulus and jobs, Infrastructure Minister Grant Robertson and Te Tai Tonga MP Rino Tirikatene have announced.  The grant for Waihōpai Rūnaka Inc to make improvements to Murihiku Marae comes from the $3 billion set ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 hours ago
  • Celebrating the Entry Into Force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons
    [Opening comments, welcome and thank you to Auckland University etc] It is a great pleasure to be here this afternoon to celebrate such an historic occasion - the entry into force of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons. This is a moment many feared would never come, but ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • Supporting disabled people to stay connected
    The Government is providing $3 million in one-off seed funding to help disabled people around New Zealand stay connected and access support in their communities, Minister for Disability Issues, Carmel Sepuloni announced today. The funding will allow disability service providers to develop digital and community-based solutions over the next two ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • Voluntary saliva testing offered to quarantine workers from Monday
    Border workers in quarantine facilities will be offered voluntary daily COVID-19 saliva tests in addition to their regular weekly testing, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today. This additional option will be rolled out at the Jet Park Quarantine facility in Auckland starting on Monday 25 January, and then to ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • Next steps in firearms buy-back
    The next steps in the Government’s ambitious firearms reform programme to include a three-month buy-back have been announced by Police Minister Poto Williams today.  “The last buy-back and amnesty was unprecedented for New Zealand and was successful in collecting 60,297 firearms, modifying a further 5,630 firearms, and collecting 299,837 prohibited ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    4 days ago
  • Jobs for Nature projects target iconic ecosystems
    Upscaling work already underway to restore two iconic ecosystems will deliver jobs and a lasting legacy, Conservation Minister Kiri Allan says.  “The Jobs for Nature programme provides $1.25 billion over four years to offer employment opportunities for people whose livelihoods have been impacted by the COVID-19 recession. “Two new projects ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • New Public Housing Plan announced
    The Government has released its Public Housing Plan 2021-2024 which outlines the intention of where 8,000 additional public and transitional housing places announced in Budget 2020, will go. “The Government is committed to continuing its public house build programme at pace and scale. The extra 8,000 homes – 6000 public ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • Prime Minister congratulates President Joe Biden on his inauguration
    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has congratulated President Joe Biden on his inauguration as the 46th President of the United States of America. “I look forward to building a close relationship with President Biden and working with him on issues that matter to both our countries,” Jacinda Ardern said. “New Zealand ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    5 days ago
  • Jobs for Nature funding will create training and employment opportunities
    A major investment to tackle wilding pines in Mt Richmond will create jobs and help protect the area’s unique ecosystems, Biosecurity Minister Damien O’Connor says. The Mt Richmond Forest Park has unique ecosystems developed on mineral-rich geology, including taonga plant species found nowhere else in the country. “These special plant ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    7 days ago
  • Pre-departure testing extended to all passengers to New Zealand
    To further protect New Zealand from COVID-19, the Government is extending pre-departure testing to all passengers to New Zealand except from Australia, Antarctica and most Pacific Islands, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today. “The change will come into force for all flights arriving in New Zealand after 11:59pm (NZT) on Monday ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    7 days ago
  • Bay Cadets learn skills to protect environment
    Bay Conservation Cadets launched with first intake Supported with $3.5 million grant Part of $1.245b Jobs for Nature programme to accelerate recover from Covid Cadets will learn skills to protect and enhance environment Environment Minister David Parker today welcomed the first intake of cadets at the launch of the Bay ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Cook Islanders to resume travel to New Zealand
    The Prime Minister of New Zealand Jacinda Ardern and the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands Mark Brown have announced passengers from the Cook Islands can resume quarantine-free travel into New Zealand from 21 January, enabling access to essential services such as health. “Following confirmation of the Cook Islands’ COVID ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Supporting communities and landowners to grow employment opportunities
    Jobs for Nature funding is being made available to conservation groups and landowners to employ staff and contractors in a move aimed at boosting local biodiversity-focused projects, Conservation Minister Kiritapu Allan has announced. It is estimated some 400-plus jobs will be created with employment opportunities in ecology, restoration, trapping, ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Border exception for some returning international tertiary students
    The Government has approved an exception class for 1000 international tertiary students, degree level and above, who began their study in New Zealand but were caught offshore when border restrictions began. The exception will allow students to return to New Zealand in stages from April 2021. “Our top priority continues ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Tiwai deal gives time for managed transition
    Today’s deal between Meridian and Rio Tinto for the Tiwai smelter to remain open another four years provides time for a managed transition for Southland. “The deal provides welcome certainty to the Southland community by protecting jobs and incomes as the region plans for the future. The Government is committed ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • New member for APEC Business Advisory Council
    Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has appointed Anna Curzon to the APEC Business Advisory Council (ABAC). The leader of each APEC economy appoints three private sector representatives to ABAC. ABAC provides advice to leaders annually on business priorities. “ABAC helps ensure that APEC’s work programme is informed by business community perspectives ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Govt’s careful economic management recognised
    The Government’s prudent fiscal management and strong policy programme in the face of the COVID-19 global pandemic have been acknowledged by the credit rating agency Fitch. Fitch has today affirmed New Zealand’s local currency rating at AA+ with a stable outlook and foreign currency rating at AA with a positive ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Additional actions to keep COVID-19 out of NZ
    The Government is putting in place a suite of additional actions to protect New Zealand from COVID-19, including new emerging variants, COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins said today. “Given the high rates of infection in many countries and evidence of the global spread of more transmissible variants, it’s clear that ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • 19 projects will clean up and protect waterways
    $36 million of Government funding alongside councils and others for 19 projects Investment will clean up and protect waterways and create local jobs Boots on the ground expected in Q2 of 2021 Funding part of the Jobs for Nature policy package A package of 19 projects will help clean up ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • New Zealand Government acknowledges 175th anniversary of Battle of Ruapekapeka
    The commemoration of the 175th anniversary of the Battle of Ruapekapeka represents an opportunity for all New Zealanders to reflect on the role these conflicts have had in creating our modern nation, says Associate Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage Kiri Allan. “The Battle at Te Ruapekapeka Pā, which took ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago