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Green’s top 10 list of NZ's dirtiest rivers “a farce"

7 June 2016 – for immediate release

Green’s top 10 list of New Zealand’s dirtiest rivers “a farce”

The Green Party’s list of the top 10 dirty rivers in New Zealand is farcical and brings into question their credibility, says IrrigationNZ CEO Andrew Curtis.

The three rivers listed in irrigated catchments; Ruamahanga, Tukituki and Selwyn, when compared with the water quality of other rivers in these regions shows whilst they each have challenges, they are not the dirtiest. “The true state of water quality in New Zealand can be gleaned from the Land Air Water Aotearoa website This contains the most accurate and up to date picture of actual river water quality in New Zealand.”
Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA) - The homepage

LAWA connects you with New Zealand's environment through sharing scientific data

“The Porirua in Wellington region, Karamu in Hawke’s Bay and Heathcote river in Christchurch all have worse water quality issues than the Ruamahanga, Tukituki and Selwyn,” says Mr Curtis “The Greens are being mischievous with their dirtiest rivers stunt. They are trying to create a divide between rural and urban communities which is not good for New Zealand.”

There are some huge water quality issues facing all of lowland New Zealand if pristine, swimmable water quality becomes the minimum standard. Whilst we all aspire to pristine water quality, it will be extremely expensive to achieve, particularly in urban areas where the worst water quality issues exist,” says Curtis. “Just as farmers will have to invest in changing farm practices, rates will have to rise significantly in urban areas to pay for rivers to be cleaned-up to a pristine standard.”

Despite this cost, Curtis says the primary sector is actively embracing change. Adoption of good management practices, like stock exclusion from waterways, is the first step. “The continued evolution of precision agriculture is the long-term solution if we are to create a resilient and sustainable future for rural New Zealand.”

“The goal posts for farmers have changed and there are now environmental limits in place or in the process of being put in place. The new legislation means all rivers have to be maintained at their current state. Communities can also make the decision to improve them beyond this. The ‘wadeable’ bottom-line only applies to rivers that are currently severely degraded. These must be improved to at least this standard.”

“It’s time for the Green Party to stop throwing stones and actively support the behaviour change that is happening in New Zealand’s rural sector. They also need to start asking questions as to what’s happening in our urban areas where New Zealand’s top 10 dirtiest rivers actually are.”

Ruamahanga river - Water quality is currently good


• Decline in ammoniacal nitrogen. This relates to sewage discharges, all other indicators show no-decline.

• Turbidity could be improved in the lower catchment making it more suitable for swimming. However, this is challenging as much of the catchment is fed by streams from highly erodible hill country.


• A regulatory process is underway to determine water quality limits and maintain current good water quality

Worse river water quality in Wellington region…

Take a look at the Porirua stream – urban catchment

Tukituki river - Water quality is currently average to good


• Point source discharges around freezing works and rural towns. However, these water quality issues are now improving due to recent upgrades.

• Turbidity could be improved making the river more suitable for swimming, but like the Rumahunga this is challenging as the some of the catchment is fed by streams from highly erodible hill country


• A regulatory regime is now in place that will ensure good water quality is achieved and maintained. This includes nitrogen and phosphate limits and all farmers managing their farms through the implementation of Audited Farm Environment Plans

Worse river water quality in Hawke’s Bay region…

Take a look at the Karamu stream – urban catchment surrounded by intensive horticulture

Waikirikiri (Selwyn) river - Water quality is currently poor


• High nitrogen levels. E.coli and turbidity are average but could be improved.


• Resolve the over allocation of ground water in the catchment to restore lowland stream flows. This is achieved through switching ground water takes to alpine fed surface water through the building of Central Plains Water.

• A regulatory regime is now in place that will ensure water quality is improved. This includes nitrogen; a 15% reduction in nitrogen losses is required from all farms by 2022, and phosphate limits and all farmers managing their farms through the implementation of Audited Farm Envrionment Plan.

Worse river water quality in Canterbury region…

Take a look at the Heathcote river – urban catchment


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