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61% of monitored sites on NZ Rivers now unsafe for swimming

29 July 2013

61% of monitored sites on New Zealand Rivers now unsafe for swimming

Water quality is getting worse under the National Government according to the Government’s own data, which shows that it is unsafe to swim at nearly two-thirds of monitored recreational sites on New Zealand rivers, the Green Party said today.

“The Government is failing New Zealanders on water quality given that statistics released today show that it is unsafe to swim at 61% of monitored recreational sites on New Zealand rivers,” said Green Party water spokesperson Eugenie Sage.

Ms Sage was responding to statistics published today by the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) which show that 61% of monitored river sites nationwide are unsafe for swimming and should be avoided. At another 19.5% of monitored sites graded “fair,” people risk illness if they swim there. Only 19.5% of monitored river recreation sites are graded “very good”, or “good” and are suitable for swimming.

“We have a freshwater crisis on our hands, and Government policy is only going to make things worse,” said Ms Sage.

“The Government implemented a toothless National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management and is planning to use money from the sale of our state-owned energy companies to subsidise large-scale irrigation projects which have further negative impacts on the quality of our rivers.

“Subsidising irrigation will lead to increasing land use intensification – putting more animals and fertiliser on our land – and the science is absolutely clear that this leads to increased water pollution.

“Many of our rivers that were found to be unsafe to swim in had unacceptable levels of E. Coli, which is a marker of faecal contamination.

“Kiwis heading down to their local swimming hole should not have to worry about faecal contamination.

“New Zealanders love our lakes and rivers and want them to be clean enough to swim and fish in,” said Ms Sage.

Suitability For Recreation Grade (SFRG) of Monitored Recreational River Sites



Very good












Very poor



SFRG’s are determined by a combination of microbial assessment (E.coli) and a sanitary inspection which is calculated from risk factors in the catchment. These risk factors are included because they could be sources of pathogens that are not detected by the sampling.

Explanation of SFRGs from MfE report:

Very good – the site has generally excellent microbial water quality and very few potential sources of faecal pollution. Water is considered suitable for swimming for almost all of the time.

Good – the site is considered suitable for swimming for most of the time. Swimming should be avoided during or following heavy rain.

Fair – the site is generally suitable for swimming, but because of the presence of significant sources of faecal contamination, extra care should be taken to avoid swimming during or following rainfall or if there are signs of pollution such as discoloured water, odour, or debris in the water.

Poor – the site is susceptible to faecal pollution and microbial water quality is not always suitable for swimming. During dry weather conditions, ensure that the swimming location is free of signs of pollution, such as discoloured water, odour or debris in the water, and avoid swimming at all times during and for up to three days following rainfall.

Very poor – the site is very susceptible to faecal pollution and microbial water quality may often be unsuitable for swimming. It is generally recommended to avoid swimming at these sites.


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