Muddying the waters not fooling anyone National


I remember a time when I could swim at will in a river, without having to worry about my health if I swallowed any water. I remember jumping of rocks into deep pools with mates. It was fun, the water refreshing and we had a great time. I would like to do that again in the (hopefully near)future.

Today, for the time being, that is all but a dream. Many rivers in New Zealand that used to low in summer but still flow dry up completely (another story for another time). Others are too polluted to safely swim in, either from run off from farms with cow faeces (poo) and urine or excessive nitrates.

In the language of fresh water discussion, micro biological organisms are minute pieces of poo. According to Minister for Environment Dr Nick Smith, 540 micro biological organism parts per 100mL (millilitres)of water means it is excellent quality water.

Wait! What?! Did I read that correctly? Oh dear. It seems like I have.

A contact in the North Island recently told me she had someone check the water supply on her property. It had 200 parts per 100mL, and she was advised that her water is not drinkable, and that she could be sick if she does.

That therefore makes the idea of 540 particles per 100mL being considered acceptable as frankly absurd.

The nationally acceptable level of micro biological organisms in swimming pool water is less than 1. And the Environment Canterbury Natural Resource Regional Plan provided for an acceptable level of ZERO (0)micro organisms per 100mL of water.

The reasoning is simple. When you swim, your whole body is in the water, and you are going to probably swallow some at some point, so the absolute last thing you want is millions of bits of poo floating around in your vicinity and potentially going into your mouth. The cost to a pool operator if they then have to drain the pool, clean it, refill it and get it back up to temperature could be in the thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

There is nothing accidental about this. National does not believe that humans have the right to swim in rivers and that the dairy industry is more important than the $1.7 billion recreational industry that relies on New Zealand’s other big earner, tourism for its participants. Many of the activities that happen in the recreational industry, happen around our fresh water lakes, rivers, streams because tourists believe them to be pristine and the ecosystems that inhabit them to be of excellent condition. Having to go home and tell family and friends that the magnificent trout spawning rivers you were hoping to fish are no better than big open sewers is not only very off putting, but others upon hearing it will spread the word as well.

Now. Let us be honest here. Who would honestly swim in water with pieces of poo, however minute they might be; however densely concentrated they might be?

And this is not just a cause of Greenie’s wanting clean water, however true it might be (and is). Nor is it exclusively about a bit of poo on New Zealand’s environmental reputation, though that certainly cannot be dismissed. What it is also about is human health, and the social and economic costs that go with being sick. The hours lost that could have been spent contributing to the economy, the loss of productivity all add costs that have not been considered by this move.

As for election year politics, this is certainly not helpful for National. It is an issue that the party has become more and more desperate on and the voters are starting to see the deliberate muddying of the water for what it is. Dr Smith might have been National’s best suited M.P. to be Minister for Environment, but he has clearly lost this battle. Continuing to defend an obviously daft shfting of the goal posts – once again – is about as clever as swimming in poo.

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