Splashing around shouldn't be dangerous

The long weekend’s weather beckoned to my boys, the dog and me – “Come to the beach!  Don’t worry about the frosty start – get into the sunshine and run around on the sand!”

We headed to Kai Iwi beach last Monday – a great place for all of us to enjoy.  The boys got to work discovering “fossils from a dinosaur” buried in the sand and they were intent on recreating a skeleton.  Stones with holes in them were “definitely” from the skull while the large slabs of papa were rinsed off in the river before joining the pile.

I, however, was more worried about who was going to get sick from splashing around in the water – the dog included!

The entrance to the beach has a Horizons Regional Council sign warning of the water conditions at Mowhanau Stream.  It recommends “that you keep your head above water, avoid swallowing water, wash your hands before eating, and avoid swimming with open cuts or wounds”.

The sign suggests you check the latest water quality information (although not everyone has a smart phone and coverage at Kai Iwi is not the best) – but unfortunately the service is not active between 30 April and 1 November.  That said, we stuck to our golden rule of not swimming after recent rain and as it hadn’t rained for a few days, I didn’t hold the boys back from wading.

Wading – that word now has political connotations for me.  Wadeable is the proposed bottomline standard for our waterways in New Zealand – not swimmable.  How can a country like ours accept a bottomline that means you can’t splash around.  That said, the volume and extent of outcry against wadeable makes me think a higher standard will come through once the consultation feedback has been crunched – how can it not?

I was privileged to attend the Green Party’s annual conference in Christchurch last weekend and was present for the launch of their rivers campaign.  The Greens have launched a website, www.rivers.greens.org.nz, profiling ten rivers from around New Zealand facing difference challenges, and describe how they would improve their conditions.

There are of course critics of this campaign, with some saying we should be more concerned about the quality of urban waterways.  Massey University’s Dr Mike Joy came back at that criticism with the comment that less than 1% of New Zealand’s waterways are urban – it’s a red herring.

Joy also responded to the question asking can we fix New Zealand’s polluted rivers by saying it was “really easy; you don't fix rivers by spending money on them, you fix rivers by not polluting them”.

And that’s what the Greens propose – developing national standards that limit pollution, ensure treated sewage is discharged to land not water, and putting a hold on all new conversations of land to dairy farms.  They also want to see action on urban waterways too, particularly around design solutions to reduce stormwater pollution.

Infinite growth is not possible on a finite planet and New Zealand is no exception.  We can not keep adding dairy cows to our lands without there being a consequence – we now have about 6.5 million cows, more than double the number from 30 years ago.  And if you consider that one dairy cow is equivalent to at least 12 humans in terms of waste, that’s like adding nearly 40 million humans into our natural places over the past 30 years, without providing the wastewater treatment to go with it. 

I’m not proposing that we go without dairy farming – I quite like my ice-cream thanks very much.  But we do need to reconsider our approach.  Have a listen to Mike Joy’s chat this week with Duncan Garner on the Radio Live website for some sensible ideas.  Or check out Radio New Zealand’s website for similar comments from Alison Dewes, a fourth-generation dairy farmer, veterinarian, and agri-business consultant – there is a better way.