Dirty waterways 'hurting a lot of NZers'

8:26 pm on 6 January 2016

Campaigners are set to start a month-long road trip throughout the country in an bid to lift the minimum standard of fresh water from wadeable to swimmable.

Clean water campaigners of Marnie Pickett and Geoff Reid.

Clean water campaigners of Marnie Pickett and Geoff Reid. Photo: Supplied

National Institue of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) figures show that more than 60 percent of rivers fail the health standard for swimming.

The Choose Clean Water Tour is funded by the Tourism Export Council and kicks off on Sunday, taking a month to cover the country.

Council president Martin Horgan said he put $10,000 into the tour because water quality issues could damage New Zealand's 'clean green' reputation.

The four campaigners are visiting over 25 lakes and rivers, talking to locals and creating short films about each area.

Campaigner Marnie Prickett said the goal was for the government to toughen up regulations on fresh water quality.

She said rising levels of algae, nitrogen and phosphate were all making freshwater dangerous to swim in.

"People's kids can't swim anymore, it's harder and harder to find fish in the rivers and there's this toxic algae growth.

"It's really hurting a lot of New Zealanders, I'd say it's pretty desperate and a disaster for us really."

Ms Prickett said this year's review of the government's national policy statement on freshwater was the perfect opportunity to improve water standards.

Massey University environmental sciences lecturer Dr Mike Joy spoke to the tourism industry last year, and challenged them to do more for the environment.

Dr Joy said the current national bottom line for nitrogen levels was 6.9 milligrams per litre, which was introduced in 2014.

He said that wasn't strict enough.

"It's just a total and complete failure of government to protect our waterways and I'm really disapointed in how it's been let go. There's just been this total 'turn a blind eye on the impacts and just go for it in the agricultural intensification', which is behind most of the problems that we have."

In 2014, the environment minister at the time Amy Adams said the new standards balanced economic growth, and environmental sustainability.

The current minister, Nick Smith, has earlier acknowledged that there are many long-term problems that needed to be addressed, but the government - and farmers - had made many improvements.

The group currently has over 1500 signatures on a petition they plan to present to Parliament in March.