11 Jun 2019

Taranaki freshwater flunks latest report card

5:43 pm on 11 June 2019

Taranaki has flunked its latest freshwater quality report card - recording poorer results across the board than in the previous year.

Signs warning people to stay out of the river went up in December

Signs warning people to stay out of the river went up in December Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

Taranaki Regional Council's state of the environment physico-chemical report for 2017-2018 was presented to its policy and planning meeting today.

It found rivers and streams in the region were in compartively poorer condition in terms of turbidity, bacteria counts and nutrient levels than in 2016-2017.

Only two of 15 sites tested met the government's national ojectives framework for swimmability.

Findings noted in the report included the Stony River showing continuing deterioration, following a natural erosion event in February 2017 (a year after another similar event) and the Maketawa Stream deteriorating across a number of measures.

All sites monitored had at least five parameters showing poorer than usual quality,

In a statement, the council said that the results had been affected by higher than average water flows.

"The results of physical and chemical monitoring of waterway quality in 2017-2018 again reflected a wetter year, with generally higher-than-usual flows in most rivers making them turbid and pushing up bacteria and nutrient levels.

"Even so, 75 percent of the 60 relevant sampling results for nutrients were in the 'A' band of the government's national standards, 23 percent were in the 'B' band and none fell below the national bottom line," the council said.

Although only 25 percent of sites tested fully met the government's swimmability standards, the council said most were where people would come into contact with the water.

"The sampling sites are too shallow, cold and/or small for recreational use," it said.

More than one committee member questioned whether the government's swimmability targets were remotely achieveable.

Protest organiser Emily Bailey

File photo of Emily Bailey. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

An iwi representative on the committee, Emily Bailey, was not buying the pushback, however.

"From what I read this is an horrific report, the swimmability is way down, we are averaging 'D'. There are so many issues and really most of the sites are deteriorating."

A freshwater advocate, Ms Bailey also took issue with the way the council's finding were presented.

"What it all comes down to is when you get to the summary reports they tell you a totally different picture.

"They've collated things like 'no improvement' with 'improvement' into one big block so it looks like we have 70 percent improvements, if you don't know how to read it properly."

Ms Bailey said out in the community people were aware water quality was not improving.

"We know, Māori, iwi, we know that our rivers are crashing, our reefs are crashing and we are tired of this kind of reporting that doesn't reflect the truth."

The state of the environment's seven-year trend also showed a decline in water quality while the trend since testing first began 23 years ago indicated water quality was stable.

The regional council will shortly receive its state of the environment freshwater ecological monitoring report, which examines what sort of tiny creatures are living in waterways.

The council considers ecological health the best measure of the wellbeing of rivers and streams.

A biennial report, in 2016-2017 it analysed samples taken at 59 sites on 26 rivers and streams across the region, and commented on trends from sampling since 1995.

According to the council, "it showed trends improving at 49 of the 57 monitored ring-plain sites at which changes can be determined - the most sites ever and surpassing record highs seen in the past two years".