A campaign to raise awareness about increasing pollution in New Zealand's fresh waterways has been touring the country over the last month and stopped in at Waipawa to hear concerns about the rivers in Central Hawke's Bay.

The Choose Clean Water Tour is due to wrap up on Waitangi Day at Waitangi, and includes a petition to establish legislation that sets "swimmable" (primary contact) as the minimum standard for freshwater in lakes, rivers, streams, groundwater, wetlands and estuaries.

The law currently allows rivers and lakes to pose a "moderate risk" of infection when people are wading or boating in them (secondary contact).

The petition also sought to make the health of people, wildlife and the environment a priority for freshwater legislation.


Throughout the tour organisers filmed interviews with people in different regions about the degradation of the nation's waterways, and in Waipawa resident Paula Fern discussed the declining quality of the rivers, particularly the Tukituki, and her concerns about the impact of the proposed Ruataniwha dam.

Ms Fern said she shifted to Waipawa with her family from Napier five years ago, keen to live in the CHB community and take advantage of the recreational opportunities at the nearby rivers.

Waipawa resident Paula Fern wants people to stand up and claim their rivers back.
Waipawa resident Paula Fern wants people to stand up and claim their rivers back.

At that time she said she knew nothing about the dam, and in what she described as a "baptism of fire" she set out to find out more.

"I went to a public meeting and came back angry. I did not feel like there was enough information out there, and when I started looking into it the more concerned I became. I have no problem with water storage when it's small, on-farm, owned by the farmers, and does not impact the rivers and the environment. I feel with this scheme it's not looking at the big picture of building a resilient community."

She said she also had doubts about the Hawke's Bay Regional Council's arguments that the scheme would improve the health of the Tukituki River, when allowable nutrient limits had been increased in the proposal, coupled with, in her opinion, inadequate flushing flows.

As for the current state of the rivers, she was most concerned about the Tukituki with consistent appearances of cyanobacteria in summer, and a lack of adequate information for the public about the water's safety for people and their animals, she said.

"There is no way for the community to know what the water quality is like above and below the Mangaonuku. I think we should be demanding better quality testing and at more sites than are currently monitored.

"The results should also be easier to read so we can understand them properly and know we are safe.

"People have a sense of fear as they do not know what they are looking for, and when you create that fear and scare people away who is there to see what's going on and how much degradation is happening?

"We need to have the courage to stand up and claim our rivers back."

Her sentiments were echoed in numerous interviews conducted throughout the tour, which feature on a Choose Clean Water Tour Facebook page.

Tour spokesman Marnie Prickett, who along with fellow campaigners Geoff Reid, Kyleisha Foote and Paul Boyce spearheaded the initiative, said sources of pollution varied throughout the country.

"On the East Coast/Gisborne area, for example, the issue is sedimentation coming down the rivers from forestry.

"In Auckland we talked to people who have raw sewage coming into their streams."

The main problem they had identified was the weak legislation created by central government to protect fresh waterways, she said.

As such, the campaign's petition has called for stronger legislation to make fresh waterways safe to swim in, and as of this week it had attracted nearly 5000 signatures.

The tour wraps up at Waitangi on Waitangi Day and the petition is open until the end of March with the aim of reaching 10,000 signatures.

The petition can be signed at www.choosecleanwater.org.nz.