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River Rescue Promises Washed Up In Billions Borrowed

What has happened to the 2017 promises by the Labour, Greens and NZ First parties - now forming government - to tangibly start the task of cleaning up the public’s waterways after decades of neglect?

That’s the question two prominent organisations, the NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers and Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations are asking.

One of the top three mandates the current Government had when elected was to clean up the country’s lakes and rivers.

“Getting towards three years later, the public are still waiting with the mood turning to frustration over this key election promise,” said Rex Gibson, Environmental Spokesperson of the NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers.

“The rhetoric has been there but it’s looking like political puffery,” said chairman of the Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations Andi Cockroft.

The “rhetoric” he referred to was exemplified by Environment Minister David Parker saying in October 2018, when the Government announced its blueprint to clean up waterways - “We’re not going to leave the hard issues for future generations.”

New rules would be in place by 2020, David Parker said in a joint announcement with Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor in a new National Policy Statement (NPS) for Freshwater Management and a new National Environmental Standard (NES).

But it’s 2020 now and only months to an election.

“It’s not credible to blame covid19,” said Andi Cockroft. “The Minister said ‘by 2020’ and it’s almost halfway through 2020 - 16 months after that October 2018 promise.”

There have been disturbing signs of government reneging on the 2017 promise when two months ago NZ First MP and Regional Development Minister, Shane Jones, said that the time was not right to impose new rules on farmers.

But the government does look to be prepared to use covid19 as a scapegoat for its inaction. Just days ago Environment minister David Parker said the delay was “because of Covid.”

Health Issues

Federation of Freshwater Anglers' spokesperson Rex Gibson stated that while anglers are getting increasingly annoyed at the delays and excuses, the public’s health was at stake just as with Covid19.

“It’s ironic while we’re dealing with a health issue with Covid19, there is a health issue being ignored with rivers. Testing and analysis of Canterbury and South Canterbury river water has shown nitrate levels well above recognised health standard limits.”

A Danish study has shown strong links between cancer and nitrate levels in water.

This study of 2.7 million people over 33 years that linked low levels of nitrates in water (far below those of current New Zealand drinking water standards) with colorectal cancer.

The Federation of Freshwater Anglers has been routinely measuring nitrate levels in several Canterbury rivers.

“The results are alarming and a testimony to the inaction and lethargy by government,” said Rex Gibson.

Don’t be Smug

However he had stern words for the opposition National Party, warning they could not afford to be smug given the good memories of the public.

“It was in the National government’s terms 2009-17, that nitrate levels accelerated as John Key embarked on unbridled dairying expansion for corporate farmers while at the same time undemocratically removing an obstacle in the way of Environment Canterbury to make wholesale dairying conversion into low rainfall areas, easier.”

He added that "The environmental sector would rather see actions and commitments backed by dollars than hollow promises from the coalition."

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