David Clark | Issue 10

David Clark | Issue 10


When it comes to things sustainable, the Swedes are global leaders in clean tech – just one percent of solid waste goes into landfills – and they’ve got some of the highest clean water standards in the world.

We could learn from Sweden. In line with the principles of sustainable development, it adopted a goal “to hand over to the next generation a society in which the major environmental problems have been solved” almost 20 years ago. The OECD now ranks Sweden as a frontrunner in environmental policy.

A few weeks ago a group of school children from Turangi stood on the forecourt at Parliament and urged the Government to do what the Swedes are well on the way to doing – making rivers swimmable. 

In fact the Swedish government goes further – their waterways have to be clean enough to be used as a drinkable water source.

Now too many New Zealand waterways feature regularly in warnings from council, with toxic algae making them unsafe for swimming and potentially lethal to dogs.

By the Government’s own reckoning, almost two thirds of our monitored waterways are of ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’ quality which means they are unsafe for swimming and should be avoided. 

Warm weather, low flows, and nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus contribute to algae blooms. Summer we can’t do a lot about. But we can do something about the other two.

Nick Smith acknowledges the main cause of declining water quality is livestock effluent and fertiliser. But rather than cracking down on the worst offenders, National’s set the weakest of standards, meaning our rivers and streams only need to be wade-able. 

Wade-able means our rivers and lakes are allowed to pose a “moderate risk” of infection when people are wading or boating in them.

That is an acceptance of dirty water. And those kids that came to Parliament know that. They want us to do something about it. For them, now, not just for future generations. 

As a country, we must stop putting pollution ahead of people and wrecking our ‘pure, green’ brand— which our biggest industry, tourism, relies on.

Some of the rivers which are currently clean enough to swim are inevitably getting dirtier in compliance with the Government’s ineffective rules.

By making wade-ability – rather than swim-abilty – the standard, the Government is giving away any aspiration for clean natural water for us and for future generations.

This article first appeared in Issue 10, 2016.
Posted 12:28pm Sunday 8th May 2016 by David Clark.