The government has announced a target of 90 per cent of New Zealand’s lakes and rivers meeting swimmable water quality standards by 2040, alongside releasing new policy, regulations, information maps and funding to help achieve the new goal
“The plan is 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 Freshwater Improvement Fund and new maps that clearly identify where improvements are needed,” Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith says.
The 90 per cent goal by 2040 is “challenging” and is estimated to cost the government, farmers and councils $2 billion over the next 23 years, he concedes, claiming “it will make us a world leader” in water quality standards for swimming, which is important for New Zealand’s growing tourism industry.
“It will return our rivers and lakes to a standard not seen in 50 years while recognising that our frequent major rainfalls mean a 100 per cent standard is not realistic.”
The target covers the length of rivers over 0.4m deep and the perimeters of lakes greater than 1.5km, which total 54,000km. The plan is about improving the frequency that lakes and rivers are swimmable, noting that even the cleanest rivers breach swimming water quality standards during storms.
The swimmable target is based on meeting the water quality standard at least 80 per cent of the time, in line with European and US definitions. Currently 72 per cent by length meet this definition, and the target is to increase that to 90 per cent by 2040. This means an additional 10,000km of swimmable rivers and lakes by 2040, or 400km per year.
The maps provide the “most comprehensive and consistent” information on water quality for swimming of New Zealand’s rivers and lakes ever published, Smith claims. “These will help focus councils and communities on improving their local water quality, as well as help people make decisions about where they can safely swim.
“The maps are connected to the Land, Air, Water Aotearoa website that provides real-time information on water quality, which is particularly relevant for the fair and intermittent categories.
“The challenge of improving water quality varies significantly across New Zealand. This plan requires improvements in water quality across all regions and all categories.
“The target not only requires an improvement in areas that are swimmable, ie into the fair category, but also rivers and lakes being moved from fair to good, and good to excellent.
“Regional targets to achieve the national goals are to be worked through with regional councils by March 2018. Some regional targets will need to be greater than the 90 per cent and others, where it is more difficult to achieve, will be less.
The National Policy Statement (NPS) for Freshwater Management is being strengthened to support the new 90 per cent by 2040 swimmability target, as well as changes to address the issues of ecological health and nutrients by:
- replacing “wadeable” with “swimmable”
- adding macroinvertebrate monitoring for ecological health
- strengthening references to “Te Mana o te Wai”
- clarifying the consideration of economic opportunities
- requiring instream limits for nitrogen and phosphorus
- clarifying inclusion of coastal lakes and lagoons
- clarifying the policy on exceptions
- strengthening the requirement for monitoring and improving quality.
“The new regulations on excluding stock from waterways are an important part of this plan to improve water quality. The rules progressively apply to dairy, pig, dairy support, beef and deer farms from this year to 2030 relative to the steepness of the country, at an expected cost of $367 million,” Smith says.
The government is also opening bids for the new $100m Freshwater Improvement Fund and announcing the eligibility and assessment criteria, which closes on 13 April. This comes on top of the $350m already committed by the government, of which more than $140m has been spent on specific river and lake clean-ups.
“This is the third phase of the government’s work programme to improve New Zealand freshwater management and builds on the NPS introduced in 2011 and the National Objectives Framework in 2014.”