This week, the government announced a new target to have 90 per cent of New Zealand's lakes and rivers reach ‘swimmable’ water quality standards by 2040 – up from 72 per cent now. Critics have said they’re just shifting the goalposts for defining a river as ‘swimmable’.
Personally, on a quick dip into news items, I got lost among the figures bandied round, with the news item above saying “the target will be based on meeting the water quality standard at least 80 per cent of the time”. While Nick Smith on National Radio defended criticism that people stood a 1 in 20 chance of getting sick in some swimmable rivers, by saying that that was only 15 per cent of the time (in those rivers). People were confusing percentiles with medians, he said.
Personally, being a purist and Idealist, never mind percentiles and medians. Why not keep our goals simple, go the whole hog, and live up to our “100% pure” brand name. From my heartland, Waikato-Tainui iwi‘s vision for the Waikato River is one of complete restoration. Their Environmental Plan, Te Ture Whaimana o Te Awa o Waikato, seeks “The restoration of water quality within the Waikato River so that it is safe for people to swim in and take food from over its entire length.”
Why not? I say. Why shouldn’t our rivers and streams all be restored to such a state as to provide vitality and sustenance to people. They’re meant to provide us with food and water, not discharge channels. We were designed to live in harmony with the earth. Though we have strayed far from the course, I believe it is possible – and necessary – to strive for that harmony again.
In the meantime, I’m off to take a dip in my local river – the Hutt/Te Awa Kairangi, in the lowest category of ‘swimmable’. Never mind, I’ll just keep my head above water.