Swimmable rivers and healthy lakes could soon be out of reach

The Green Party is calling on the Government to tighten the rules on synthetic fertiliser use and intensive land use, including intensive winter grazing, after new monitoring data revealed almost two-thirds of monitored rivers and streams are in poor health.

“There is no time for half measures. Far too many of our rivers and lakes are unhealthy. We must drastically reduce nutrient pollution in rural catchments and improve urban water quality," says Green Party spokesperson for the environment, Eugenie Sage.

Data released by the Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA) project today shows that urgent action is needed to improve the health of lakes around the country and ensure that the next generation can swim in the rivers of Aotearoa. The data shows that 86% of the 152 monitored lakes are in a “very poor”, “poor” or “fair” condition. Almost two in three rivers are in poor health and unsuitable for swimming.

“Many of our lakes are iconic, recognisable and important to many New Zealanders for swimming, fishing, as mahinga kai and for cultural identity. In supposedly “clean green New Zealand” having so few lakes in “good” or “very good health” is nothing to be proud of. 

“Thousands of us will remember growing up swimming in local creeks and rivers. Today’s data is yet another reminder that in many parts of the country, people can no longer do that or take kai without risking their health and wellbeing. Many of the native freshwater fish species that depend on clean rivers, lakes, wetlands, and estuaries are also threatened with extinction.  

“We have a collective responsibility to protect our precious freshwater and ensure future generations have access to clean rivers and lakes they can swim in, gather kai from, and drink from.

“Previous governments failed to protect our waterways. In failing our fresh water, they failed Aotearoa New Zealand.

“Agricultural intensification and high animal numbers which synthetic nitrogen fertiliser use enables, and activities such as intensive winter grazing continue to harm our rivers and lakes. So do poorly managed earthworks and subdivision in urban areas.

“Our rivers and lakes, our wetlands, our estuaries are taonga – and they should always be treated as such. Following decades of advocacy from the Greens, environmental organisations and iwi and hāpu, the Government finally stepped up in 2020 and introduced clear and enforceable policies to improve our waterways.

“We rightly celebrated this at the time, but in the two years since the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management was strengthened, little improvement has been made. The pace of change is far too slow.

“Whilst we know this is a problem that cannot be solved overnight, the clock is ticking. If the Government doesn’t take urgent action, its goal of ensuring the next generation can swim in the rivers of Aotearoa will soon be out of reach.

“Today we are calling on the Government to urgently limit and eventually phase out synthetic fertiliser use, implement the intensive winter grazing rules, and increase support for regenerative farming practices to reduce nutrient pollution and sediment run-off. District and regional councils also need to do better in enforcing existing rules.

“The Government’s reform of the Resource Management Act will be a huge opportunity to make sure we have a planning and resource management system that is strong enough to deliver on the promise of clean rivers, lakes, and aquifers.

“Restoring our lakes, rivers and wetlands so people can swim safely, and freshwater species can thrive is a priority for the Green Party. 

“The thousands of matua/parents and koroua/grandparents who remember growing up swimming and taking kai from some of our most beautiful water spots want the same for their own tamariki and mokopuna. We need to make that happen,” says Eugenie Sage.

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