Taking the taboo out of talking poo

If you’re one of the thousands of Cantabrians who head to the lakes over summer to enjoy a classic Kiwi camping experience you might notice posters and advertising reminding people of the harmful impact of poo on water quality – and to always use a loo.

While it may be taboo to discuss at the dinner table, pollution from human and dog poo is an issue that we need to talk about. This is because just a small amount of E.coli bacteria found in poo can have a massive impact on a waterway – it can make swimmers very sick and affect mahinga kai food gathering and the māuri (life force) of the water.

Unfortunately, we had an example of such E.coli pollution event at peak summer last year at Lake Ruataniwha.

This resulted in health alert measures that closed the main swimming area for several days, impacting thousands of people’s long-anticipated summer holiday.

The Twizel community was, understandably, very concerned about the health of their lake – none more so than members of the Upper Waitaki Water Zone Committee, including local residents, councillors and runanaga representatives.

The committee requested a briefing on the incident and Environment Canterbury shared the results of our science and compliance investigation. This systematically addressed the most likely pollution contributors and found that human poo was a likely source.

A dedicated community working group was set up, including the local council, Ruataniwha Rowing Club, runanga and tourism representatives, to make a plan to prevent a poo-related health alert happening again.

This plan includes more water monitoring, extra toilets for the impending influx of visitors these summer holidays and a targeted awareness-raising campaign to remind people that the only place they should poo is in a loo.

The committee will be launching this campaign soon, as part of its yearly Love Our Lakes promotion, and if you have the chance to share the message, please do.

Meanwhile, we continue to prevent other pollution to water, including farming run-off and urban stormwater, through our rules, regulations and encouragement of good management practices.

While human poo might only make a up a very small per cent of the overall water quality problem, it can have a proportionally big impact on our summer holidays.

  • Cr Jenny Hughey is chair of the Canterbury Regional Council (Environment Canterbury)

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