This week, I had the privilege of attending the Kiwibank New Zealander of the Year Awards.


There is nothing more humbling than listening to the remarkable achievements of so many Kiwis, young and old, from all walks of life, who use their talents and their energy for good.

Among the award recipients was Hayden Smith, 2017's Local Hero winner.
Hayden founded Sea Cleaners, an organisation that has collected more than four million tonnes of rubbish from our oceans and harbours since Smith began his mission in 2002.

I wrote about the disgusting state of Auckland's harbours thanks to an antiquated storm water drainage system and railed about the pollution of one of this country's most precious resources in a column a month ago, but seeing someone who is doing something about it has galvanised me into action.
Getting out there and picking up the plastic and rubbish that are poisoning our waterways and foreshores will do more good than my sitting in an office being a keyboard warrior.

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It's not often I look forward to Government policy announcements, but given the state of New Zealand's waterways, I was hoping for some good news in National's fresh water initiative announced on Thursday.

And there is some.

The aim is to make 90 per cent of this country's rivers safe for swimming by 2040 - probably a little late for me to put on my togs and frolic in the Waikato River but my grandchildren should have fun.

For the first time, a deadline has been set requiring all livestock to be excluded from rivers - that will require more than 56,000km of extra fencing and must be completed by 2030. So far, so good.

But where the Government has come in for criticism is its definition of a safe river.

A river will be considered excellent for swimming if it exceeded the threshold for faecal contamination less than 5 per cent of the time.
And that threshold is 540 e coli cultures in 100ml of water - a standard Environment Minister Nick Smith says puts us in line with other countries.

However, that level was previously applied to waterways that were only considered suitable for wading, not swimming.
And the Green Party says that the Government's shifting of the goalposts means a person has a one in 20 chance of getting sick if they swim in a river deemed to be of excellent quality.

The Greens' water spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty says the Government has redefined the standard to allow twice as much faecal matter in rivers deemed swimmable - a claim that Nick Smith strongly refutes.

He says the 1 in 20 figure is based on junk science and that the initiative will give this country a water quality better than at any time since World War II.

We'll see.

It's a step in the right direction, certainly.

Thousands of New Zealanders get sick every year just from contact with our waterways.
Going for a dip at the local water hole should be one of the joys of living in this country.
You shouldn't have to fear getting stomach flu or an infection or neonatal meningitis.

But that's what's happening and it's a blight on New Zealand's reputation.

We all know the clean green tagline is complete bollocks.

And it's going to take years before the damage we've done to our waterways is repaired.

There is plenty more than can and in fact, should be done.
The money invested in our rivers and lakes is paltry compared to the investment in other infrastructure - like transport. But, it's a start.

And if we want to save our harbours and our waterways, we have to do our bit. too.
If that means paying more in our rates to upgrade our stormwater drains, so be it.

In the meantime, we can always help out organisations like Sea Cleaners.

They're always looking for volunteers. There might not be plenty of fish in the sea - but there sure as hell is plenty of plastic.