There is an urgent public health need to have confidence in our fresh water systems much sooner than 2040, says Rural GP Network chair and NP Sharon Hansen
Hansen was responding to an announcement by Environment Minister Nick Smith today that the Government had set a target of 90 per cent of New Zealand's lakes and rivers meeting swimmable water quality standards by 2040.
Smith said the plan was backed up by national regulations requiring stock to be fenced out of waterways, new national policy requirements on regional councils to strengthen their plan rules on issues such as sewage discharges and planting riparian margins, a new $100 million Freshwater Improvement Fund and new maps that clearly identify where improvements are needed.
Hansen said 23 years was "simply to great a timeframe" to get water quality up to a safe acceptable standard. "There is a clear and urgent need to have confidence in the safety of our fresh water systems, be they for drinking or bathing, from a public health perspective, sooner than 2040," she said.
“Our communities insist their children are able to swim in a local water hole without fear of becoming ill and to know they can turn on the tap and drink water without fear of becoming ill because the water source is contaminated.”
She said still fresh in people's minds was the August gastroenteritis outbreak in Havelock North that resulted in more than 5,000 people falling ill because of E. coli in the water supply.
“Whether it’s bathing, fishing or drinking, the quality of our rural waterways and water supplies cannot be compromised by either bad practice, insufficient monitoring or standards of monitoring, or delayed action.
Hansen said the government's water policy had been "compromised by desire for economic growth rather than the long-term view on environmental sustainability".
"Accepting second-rate water quality standards merely continues the behaviour of short-term gains at the expense of our children's futures and New Zealand's sustainability.”