Environment Minister David Parker may reset water quality standards

10:29 am on 3 July 2018

The Environment Minister will look at tougher, new proposed water quality standards to replace the much-slated ones that National brought in last year.

Minister of Economic Development David Parker. 10 April 2108

Environment Minister David Parker Photo: VNP / Daniela Maoate-Cox

The previous government was roundly criticised for introducing weaker standards for swimming which did not actually measure the health of lakes and rivers.

Fish and Game, which administered sports fishing and gamebird resources in New Zealand, wrote the proposed National Policy Statement for freshwater management, with input from Forest and Bird, the Environmental Defence Society and Greenpeace and presented it to Environment Minister David Parker.

Fish and Game chief executive Martin Taylor said the previous standards changed the definition of what qualified as an excellent body of water because the then-government knew it had a problem with water quality and swimmability.

"What was poor water quality you determine it to be excellent and then you sell it on being excellent, so that's the approach that they had. We've taken it back to the descriptors are accurate, when we say excellent we mean excellent," Mr Taylor said.

The biggest difference in these proposed standards is that the Freshwater National Policy Statement would look at the health of ecosystems.

Mr Taylor said the bottom line was being able to swim and collect food from rivers and lakes without getting sick.

Research from freshwater scientist Mike Joy was used for the proposal.

He said the suggested standards measure more components of the water to give a much broader picture of what was happening in the catchment.

"What we had before was a National Policy Statement that talked all about ecosystem health, but then had no measures of ecosystem health and no requirement for meeting levels of ecosystem health."

The previous standards were introduced by former environment minister Nick Smith, who dismissed criticism of them as "junk science".

However, Mr Joy said those standards could not even achieve their own stated aims, and if the proposed measures were put in place there would be action on improving water quality.

There was public outcry when the previous government released its standards, and National was accused of shifting the goal posts on the definition of what was swimmable.

Water campaigner Marnie Prickett, who is interested in the human side of water quality, also contributed to the proposal.

She said the suggested standards for what was deemed a swimmable body of water were based on what District Health Boards wanted, but were ignored by National.

Mr Parker declined to be interviewed on the matter, saying he had received various views on national water standards and would consider them.

However, following a report from the Land and Water Forum last week, Mr Parker said it proved consensus could not be reached on different measures of water quality and the mandate now passed back to central government to tackle.

Fish and Game want Mr Parker to determine what the next standards on freshwater quality are going to be before the end of the year.

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