David Parker: Cleaning up our rivers

Opinion 06/09/2019

By David Parker, Minister for the Environment, Labour Party List MP.

All New Zealanders should be able to swim in their local rivers, putting their heads under the water without fear of getting sick – and be able to fish and gather kai.

Unfortunately, our rivers, lakes and wetlands are under threat with water quality getting worse – not better - in some areas. For too many of us, the spots we used to swim in don’t meet safe swimming standards. 

For me as Minister for the Environment, there is no job more important than cleaning up our rivers.

Water quality is a long-term challenge - it’s one of the main issues New Zealanders elected us to deal with. We know clean water is crucial to our economy and to who we are as a country.

Our primary exports and tourism rely on our clean, green image. What’s more, as Minister for Trade and Export Growth I know how important our environmental reputation is to our trading partners who are focused not only on what we produce, but how we produce their food.

So the Government is taking the lead, working together with farmers, councils and the community to start cleaning up our waterways. This week I set out the Government’s action plan. It’s about three things:

  1. Stopping the degradation of our rivers
  2. Delivering a noticeable improvement in water quality in five years
  3. Restoring our waterways over a generation.

We know what we need to do – we need to reduce the quantity of nutrients and sediment entering our waterways. That means holding councils to account with strict new standards to make sure waterways, wetlands and estuaries are prioritised and protected.

It means setting higher standards for swimming in the places New Zealanders like to swim in summer and putting a focus on safe drinking water and improved management of stormwater and wastewater.

It means planting more trees alongside waterways to prevent erosion and better fencing waterways to stop livestock getting into our rivers. And it means being honest about changing the way we do things in the places where our environment is frankly no longer clean, or green.

This is a step change in the way we do things.

We can’t continue on like we are and if we don’t fix things now they will only get worse.

We know many farmers are ahead of the curve, not only here in New Zealand but internationally. It’s a simple reality that rural people are at the forefront of the fight to protect our productive land for future generations.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and I were impressed by the environmental efforts being made by the Booth family - Andrew, Vicky, Richard and Sharon - when we visited their farm in August.

The Booth family are working hard alongside the community and iwi to clean up the Kaipara harbour. What a lot of people don’t know is that the vast majority of all Snapper caught off the West Coast of the North Island use Kaipara as a nursery.

The Booth’s work fencing and planting to stop sediment getting into the rivers and harbour supports the supply of snapper we all enjoy. It’s a great illustration of the ways farm plans support businesses and communities well beyond the farm gate.

Now there are some people among us who want you to believe that cleaning up our rivers will destroy the economy. The reality is quite the opposite. If anyone in this country relies on the long-term sustainability of our land and water, it’s farmers.

We are supporting farmers with the best available science and a $229m package to help with the transition to more sustainable practices.

I believe the package of proposals being released today will help us realise our goal we set at the launch of our Essential Freshwater plan last year: stopping the degradation of New Zealand’s waterways, a noticeable improvement within five years, and restoring them to a healthy state within a generation.

The health of our people, our environment, and our economy depend on it.

David Parker is Minister for the Environment and Labour Party List MP.