A group called Choose Clean Water is on a tour around New Zealand communities in which the pollution of freshwater lakes and rivers has had a direct impact on people's lives.

It is creating a collection of short films in which many locals tell their personal stories and how water pollution near to where they live has affected them, and how connected they are to their local waterways.

"One dairy farm puts down the pumps and they don't just suck out the water, they suck out all the memories, all that background to our lives," said north Canterbury resident Sam Mahon in one of the films. He lives near the Waitohi River.

"You try and tell me that irrigation for private gain is good for us, good for the country... you're going to take a lot of time to convince me."


This is but one of many heartfelt pleas for New Zealand's lakes and rivers that are coming out as Choose Clean Water tours the country.

The group's tour began on 10 January and will end on 6 February at Waitangi.

Choose Clean Water spokesperson Marnie Prickett said the widespread threat of freshwater pollution is increasing all the time.

"It's a problem that's throughout the country. It's mainly to do with our lowland lakes and rivers, but they're starting to creep further up the catchments, so it's a huge problem and it's starting to effect the health of people, as well, which is a real worry," said Ms Prickett.

"The people who we've been speaking to have been identifying a number of different issues. Intensive farming is obviously something that we hear about a lot, and that is a big contributor going not only into lakes and rivers, but also water coming out of lakes and rivers in big quantities, which obviously is no good for any of the aquatic animals that live in there.

"In other parts of the country, people that we've spoken to have identified forestry as a problem with the amount of dirt that comes down the rivers. In urban catchments, it's often sewer overflows which are a problem."

Prickett said at the root of the problem, there are no laws currently in place to protect lakes and rivers. As they are generally not owned by a person or organisation, there are questions about who should be responsible for looking after natural freshwater in New Zealand.

"But I think that regardless of who owns it we have a collective responsibility to look after this, especially given that we rely on water so fundamentally, and also that our wildlife relies on it.


"it's a responsibility of the Government to put in strong protections to take care of our health."

The Choose Clean Water campaign will present a petition to Parliament, asking for the relevant laws to be enacted.

The minimum standard threshold for rivers and lakes currently asks that they be deemed 'wadeable', whereas Choose Clean Water want that to be changed to 'swimmable' so communities can continue to enjoy their local waterways as they have in the past.

Choose Clean Water also requests that the House of Representatives increases priority for the freshwater legislation currently under review by the Land and Water Forum - for the sake of people, wildlife and the greater environment.

"We have this disconnect of priorities in New Zealand," said Prickett.

"We have got away for seeing water for what it is, which is something that is essential to our lives and to our quality of life, and in some cases our livelihood."

Read our sign the petition to set freshwater standards for people and the environment here, and visit Choose Clean Water's Facebook page to read and view more about the campaign, including the short films containing communities' messages.

Like what you see? For weekly Element news sign up to our newsletter. We're also on Facebook and Twitter.