Freshwater standards appraised

Otago's water quality should be safe from further degradation under the new national freshwater standards, the Otago Regional Council says.

The Government released national water quality standards this week. These new standards have a bottom line for water quality that means they would legitimise water quality well below the state of Otago's waterways now.

The standards running from A (suitable for swimming) to D, (unacceptable to human health), rate C, (suitable for boating and wading), as the bottom line.

Otago Regional Council planning director Fraser McRae said the numbers set in the council's recently launched 6A water quality plan change were ''well above'' those the Government had set for band A.

From the council's reading of the standards, it could set standards that were higher than the bottom line but could not go below it.

''A lot of our water quality is better than the A band.''

The council set its standards higher due to the water quality being so good in Otago and the community not wanting it to be degraded, he said.

It had brought in five different ''water management units'' which would have to be interpreted to relate to the Government's standards.

''We need to introduce their words into the plan change.''

University of Otago freshwater ecologist Assoc Prof Gerry Closs said most rivers and lakes in the country would be suitable for wading or boating.

''It's pretty loose. God help you if you swallow the water though,'' he said.

The standards were very vague, leaving regional councils to develop their own protocols and would only make the uneven approach to water quality across the country more so.

''It won't stop the decline of what's going on now. It is disappointing.''

The Otago Regional Council was one of the few who had developed much tougher standards, having recognised their communities had made it clear they wanted higher standards of water quality.

At its worst, in some parts of the country, it could reward those landowners with poor practices, he said.

University of Otago freshwater scientist Dr Marc Schallenberg, who was one of the scientists involved in setting the lake limits, said while the water quality limits were an adequate minimum level of guidance, they could be viewed with a cynical eye.

''One could conclude that the Government's focus on nitrate and ammonium toxicity instead of the ecosystem health effects of these pollutants, is a loophole for dairying, which leaks large amounts of nitrogen from cattle urine and fertilisers into surface waters and groundwaters - a major cause of the deterioration of our freshwaters.''

He was worried the limits framework did not take a whole-catchment approach to managing nutrients in aquatic ecosystems''Rivers are allowed to have levels of nitrogen and phosphorus that far exceed levels that would safeguard aquatic ecosystems from algal blooms.''

Environment Minister Amy Adams yesterday said claims the Government's national standards would lead to the deterioration of freshwater were wrong.

''Where a water body is below the national standard, councils and communities will need to ensure that the standard is met over sensible and realistic time frames.''

The national standards were focused on targeting those water bodies that were below those levels, and did not affect water bodies where councils had chosen a higher level.

Sites that councils and communities identified as swimming sites would require higher standards, she said.

''It is not the Government's intention to require every stormwater drainage channel across New Zealand to be suitable for swimming, because of the significant costs this would impose unnecessarily.''


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