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National Protest At River Pollution

Friday January 21, 2005

National Protest At River Pollution

On Saturday morning January 22 representatives from Fish & Game New Zealand, The Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, Federated Mountain Clubs and the New Zealand Recreational Canoeing Association will be placing signs by rivers around the country to raise awareness of the contamination of New Zealand’s waterways.

The signs will say that the river is polluted and unsafe to swim in or drink water from.

Last year these four outdoor recreational and conservation organisations formed a coalition under the banner “Living Rivers” to protect New Zealand rivers.

“New Zealanders have become complacent about our rivers and streams,” says Fish & Game spokesperson Neil Deans. “Yet, there is abundant evidence that our waterways are so full of pollutants that many breach health safety standards and are unsafe to swim in or drink the water from. You cannot take your kids down to play in the river this summer and feel they are safe from disease. This is a disgrace. Our waterway pollution is a critical environmental issue that needs to be urgently addressed.”

In November the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Morgan Williams, released his report “Growing for Good? The sustainability of intensive farming in New Zealand.” The Report said that rapid expansion in the use of nitrogen fertilisers, increased stocking rates, and increased irrigation were threatening New Zealand’s soils and freshwater. For example, urea fertiliser consumption had increased 160% between 1996-2002 . In the Waikato $63 million of nitrogen is lost into the environment every year. The Report concluded that there is strong evidence that New Zealand waterways are becoming nutrient enriched and degraded from animal faecal matter and nitrogen.

The Report is supported by recent reports from the National Institute of Water and Atmospherics (NIWA) that reveal the extent of waterway contamination.

Says Kevin Hackwell Forest and Bird spokesperson: “The biodiversity of our waterways, which are the habitat of many fish and bird species, is under threat. The current state of our waterways means that the rate of decline of species populations and ranges will certainly increase. This will mean in some areas native freshwater species will disappear or become extinct.”

“The Living Rivers Coalition wants,” says Kevin Hackwell, “to see the recommendations by the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment in his Report -‘Growing for Good’ to redesign land use and farming systems to be implemented. We also want to see more effective action on waterway pollution by central and local Government agencies. For example, the Ministry for the Environment in its discussion document last year ‘Water Programme of Action’ did not even mention the possibly that native freshwater species are likely to become extinct, nor did it mention our great braided rivers and the threatened fish and birds that live in them”.

Says Hugh Canard of the Canoeing Association: “Twenty years ago visiting canoeists were absolutely stunned to see us drink out of the water we were paddling on. Sadly, there are very few rivers that we can safely drink from today and some rivers are even unfit to swim in which is a hazard for canoeists. Regional Councils are still unaware of the extent of recreation in and on our rivers.”

John Wilson, President of Federated Mountain Clubs, which is a federation of 104 tramping and climbing clubs, said that the tramping community recognised there was a need for more walking opportunities within easy reach of growing urban populations, but the quality experience of riverside trails was degraded by river pollution. “The quality of setting is paramount to the enjoyment of a walk or a tramp”, he says.

Says Neil Deans of Fish & Game: “Our rivers are a highly important part of our recreational culture, community and economy. They are part of what it is to be a New Zealander. Yet, we take them for granted. Kiwis need to reflect that this summer, when they take their kids down to local rivers to swim and play, they could well be doing so in contaminated water. This is something we shouldn’t accept.”


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