Protecting waterways for future generations was the catch cry of a Hawke's Bay rally yesterday demanding safe, clean water.

At midday yesterday, crowds gathered at 21 local councils around the country as a 15,000 strong petition calling on the Government to place a moratorium on freshwater exports was presented to Parliament.

The event's message is close to Hawke's Bay - with the recent Havelock North water contamination crisis drawing attention to the state of the region's waterways, and growing contention around water bottling.

These issues were discussed by the 50 people who gathered outside Hawke's Bay Regional Council yesterday, hoisting placards and colourful signs.

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Napier rally co-ordinator Heather Scherger told the group she was there to stand up for her children and grandchildren's right to have access to clean and safe drinking water.

As well as the need to clean up Hawke's Bay's waterways, she said there were issues around water storage, and water allocation which needed to be fixed.

"This is not democracy, this is a slap in the face," she said. "We have a problem and we have to solve it together."

Hoisting a home-made sign, Napier resident Hine Norris said she was at the rally to make a difference, before future generations were affected.

"The waterways are being polluted and its not being dealt with effectively by our Government," she said. "If we don't stand up for it now it's going to affect our tamariki and their future."

Amongsthe crowd were regional councillors Paul Bailey and Peter Beaven - Mr Beaven was a driver behind the regional council's recent agreement that all water bottling consent applications be publicly notified.​

In a speech, Mr Bailey said "the water issue ... is probably the biggest issue confronting the regional council at the moment".

"We are doing our very best under the constraints given to us around dealing with the water issue."

Mr Bailey - previously the Green Party candidate for Napier - encouraged people to do their bit to change the government this election year.

Other residents spoke - encouraging each other to vote in the upcoming election, and to make submissions on the freshwater swimming policy announced by Environment Minister Nick Smith last month.

At the same time yesterday, Jen Branje, founder of Bung the Bore - the group behind the rallies - handed the petition to Parliament.

She said yesterday was about "putting people and the environment above the demands of private interests to exploit New Zealand's freshwater".

In July last year, pressure from her group and the public contributed to the Ashburton District Council backing out of negotiations with a water bottling company.

"The residents of our town were on water restrictions and our council was going behind their backs to sell off the district's most pure water. We stood up and said this is not right," Mrs Branje said.

There are 74 bottling plants throughout the country with permits to take water for bottling, with more consents awaiting approval.