On the surface the Government’s Freshwater announcement yesterday looks and sounds good, but the Tourism Export Council is sceptical the release is a smokescreen that disguises the true state of New Zealand’s Freshwater status and is seeking transparency and urgency from government re New Zealand’s declining water quality in the country’s rivers, lakes and streams.

The Prime Minister announced yesterday new standards for freshwater quality with 90% of waterways swimmable by 2040 – which on paper sounds like great news. The Tourism Export Council however joins many environmental groups to voice concerns that this announcement is a rouse and simply not good enough.

Firstly, without a sense of urgency pollution of our waterways will continue to worsen for the foreseeable future – something the Tourism Industry cannot afford.

Secondly, the Government’s definition of ‘swimmable’ is vastly different to what we believe most New Zealand would consider “swimmable”.

Previous, the Government’s measure for freshwater to be safe to drink or swim in has been 260 E coli units per 100 millilitres, that had now been pushed out to 540 units and if a body of freshwater meets that standard 80 per cent of the time, it is deemed ‘swimmable’. Quite simply the goalposts have been widened to ensure more rivers and streams fall within the govt’s threshold of ‘swimmable’.

Up until now, most councils have determined recreational water quality using Ministry of Health guidelines.  Those guidelines state that if you swim somewhere with an E coli level of 550 per 100mls, you have a one in 20 chance of contracting campylobacter.  This is effectively the Govt’s new definition of swimmable – a one in 20 chance of getting sick from swimming in our rivers and streams.  Clearly – not acceptable.

The Tourism Export Council’s chief executive Lesley Immink says there is a lot at stake with potential reputational damage a risk for New Zealand.

“Today’s visitors are environmentally aware and clean water is an essential aspect for New Zealand’s tourism and primary exports future. We have to be seen to be doing all we can to live up to 100% Pure New Zealand promise, backed up by meaningful policy,” Ms Immink says.

Last year, the Council supported the Choose Clean Water Campaign which highlighted that New Zealanders wanted swimmable water.  The campaign ended with a 13,000 signature petition being presented to Parliament calling for better freshwater quality.

Since then tour operators have given a mandate to the Council to continue to advocate for the protection of the environment.

“New Zealand could become the first genuinely sustainable nation.  It has the natural assets and people to make this possible but we risk these assets being eroded by poor decision making, poor business practices and careless decisions”.

We are better than the solutions presented yesterday.

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