National’s ‘swimmable’ rivers policy is another ‘alternative facts’ moment and why we can’t allow it



This joke redefinition of ‘swimmable’ so that National can pretend to have 90% of our rivers and lakes ‘swimmable’ by 2040 is dangerous.

Firstly, it sends the clear signal that National have no intention whatsoever to force their corporate farming mates to halt dairy intensification.

Secondly, it sends an even more dangerous message to us as New Zealanders that this Government can just lie directly to our faces under the belief that we will accept it.

The Government redefinition of ‘swimmable’ as water that doesn’t directly burn your eyes, ears or lips and will only make 1 in 20 sick is a farce and it says the Government thinks we are idiots...

Ninety percent of rivers and lakes swimmable.

What part of that doesn’t sound good? None of it until you realise what the Government considers “swimmable”.

In the Government’s National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014, for a body of water (be it a river or lake) to get an ‘A’ rating, it has to have rates of E. Coli (the bacteria that gives us campylobacter), less than or equal to, 260cfu/100mL, 95 per cent of the time. It used to be 99 per cent A reading above 260cfu/100mL means there is certain risk to human health.

This doesn’t seem to phase the Government though. Why let public health get in the way of achieving? As far as it is concerned, a few tests above that level (up to 5 per cent), and that river or lake is still an ‘A’. Yes, a river that makes 1 in 20 sick, gets an ‘A’. Sound ridiculous? It gets worse.

The Ministry of Health’s 1992 Provisional Microbiological Water Quality Guidelines for Recreational and Shellfish-Gathering Waters in New Zealand suggests that water with less than 235cfu/100mL is optimum, with anything higher best avoided. How is 260cfu/100mL suddenly ok? What’s changed? Are we all of sudden better at dealing with E. Coli? Furthermore, compare the Government’s new standards to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) guideline standard of 40cfu/100mL of water (at this limit the WHO considers water to have no observable adverse effect on human health) and the limit of 260cfu/100mL looks ludicrous. I’d love to ask the WHO its thoughts on us swimming in water with 260cfu/100mL, let alone the equivalent of a ‘B’ rating of water with 540cfu/100mL.

…right, so the Government have just renamed cow shit in water as ‘candyfloss’. Next they’ll eliminate all murder by redefining it as involuntary death and children in poverty will now be called ‘Future Jobseekers’.

We have suddenly sat up and noticed this alternative fact masquerading as truth because we all love fresh pure water and can see that pure water in our minds eye. We don’t however notice the lie when it’s being used to damage people we don’t see in such simplistic terms as fresh water.

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Take the farce of National’s welfare reforms. Throwing beneficiaries off welfare and then hailing the lower stats as successful social policy is as much an alternative fact as dirty water now being called fresh water.

Take National’s Charter School experiment. It’s simply code for finding a way to cut teacher costs, it’s got bugger all to do with the welfare and education of our children.

Take the CYFs reforms – this is about throwing kids into the first family CYFs can find to cut costs.

Take the private prisons – they’ve been put forward as a way to save costs, yet the cost to the Government continues to spiral upwards as more and more NZers are locked up in prison.

Each of these right wing experiments are a manipulation of the facts to continue draconian and cost cutting social policies, but most ignore and shrug because it’s aimed at criminals, vulnerable children, poor children, Maori, Pacific Islanders, working poor and beneficiaries.

Pure rivers however we can all jump up and down about because being the easily led hobbits that we is, this image…

…carries more political weight in the anti-intellectual public toilet of popular opinion than brown, hungry and/or hurt people.

So let’s use the clean rivers juxtaposition as our rallying point, let’s hammer this image repeatedly to get through to the masses, but let’s not pretend that our inability to recognise the same political deceit used on weaker members of our society means their plight is any less pressing than cleaning up our rivers.



  1. Well it IS an election year Bomber; this issue needs to be kept in the public eye and maximised.

    Now, what are those Greens up to with this?

  2. I think I will be voting Green…our so-called ‘swimable’ river is hardly there at all!…the same with another large (used to be) local ‘swimable’ river

    ….maybe they become absolutely ‘swimable’ when there is no water left?

    ….so how do you swim when there is no water?…do you become a flying fish?

    …this is theft of the commons from New Zealanders…and the Nact Party is the party of hoaxers and swindlers and fraudsters

    …btw the tourists especially from France …are NOT fooled

  3. Yes Martyn,

    It is astonishing that Nactional can even think that saying the rivers are clean when they will take over 100yrs to clean the bedded sediment sitting under the river beds.

    Senior well respected Massey University ecologist Mike Joy said the research showed the rivers were “a basket case”. “”At the high levels, you virtually have to get some in your mouth and you’ll get sick.”

    During the Manawatu River ‘among worst in the West’ debacle studies in 2009, Horizons planning and regulatory manager Greg Carlyon said “the nitrogen caps would get the river water only halfway to swimming quality over 20 years.”

    So we know it takes at least twice as long as Nactional says to get river water pollution down to “swimming” level.

    Just read any study document on river contamination runoff from farms, and roads, and they all confirm that the bedded sediment says there until removed and seeps out slowly over 100 yrs.’ so Nactional will be a laughing stock around the world.

    I am not a green party member but doing the 1999 to 2002 I was and then Rod Donald and Jeannette Fitzsimmons were hard on river water quality but we see little from them now.
    Lastly NIWA have produced a sad reminder of the real pollution from roads now that so far have not been considered by the government yet and this short note shows how bad the river pollution is now becoming, and this tyre/ and chemicals road runoff settles on the bottom of the rivers and leeches out into the water for many years so we are stuffed with the increased road use today and truck freight.

    Chemical contamination
    Chemical contaminants are chemicals toxic to plants and animals in waterways.
    The phrase ‘chemical contamination’ is used to indicate situations where chemicals are either present where they shouldn’t be, or are at higher concentrations than they would naturally have occurred. Chemical contaminants can be found as organic and inorganic molecules in mass produced products used day to day by almost everybody. These include plastics, resins, pharmaceuticals, disinfectants, deodorants, detergents, petroleum products, road runoff, pesticides and biocides, along with the results of land fill and incineration.
    For many of these substances accumulation into aquatic environments can cause environmental problems, although some chemical contaminants do not damage the environment, and for many chemical contaminants the consequences are currently unknown. Chemical contaminants are often transported by water as it flows across the land, roads, and other impermeable surfaces. With little prior treatment, many of these contaminants may eventually discharge into waterways.
    Some contaminants can increase bacteria growth and oxygen consumption within a waterway. In extreme cases, such as a large spill of sewage or milk, low oxygen conditions may kill mahinga kai species. Lower levels of nutrient contamination in waterways can result in eutrophication. Most eutrophication is due to the inorganic nutrients nitrate and phosphate that induce the growth of algae. The algae subsequently die, resulting in more organic matter and low oxygen conditions.
    Find out more about eutrophication
    Find out more about nutrient overloading

    Free phone within New Zealand:
    0800 RING NIWA
    (0800 746 464)

  4. With that one announcement many NZ lakes and rivers have suddenly been made “cleaner” according to the new standards. What a cunning strategy, moving the goal posts. National are good at that, let us remember also the changes to much other data and how it is used.

    Nick the Dick has done it again.

    Let him have a dip in the Mangere sewage ponds, I am sure he will find it “swimmable” also.

    More help for Federated Farmers and their members, lowering the standards for ecoli and so forth, so they don not have to try all too hard to clean up streams and lakes.

    By the way, does anybody really believe NZ is one of the least corrupt countries on this planet?

  5. ” …right, so the Government have just renamed cow shit in water as ‘candyfloss’. Next they’ll eliminate all murder by redefining it as involuntary death and children in poverty will now be called ‘Future Jobseekers ’’.


    I love it!

    And that’s a bout the size of these liars… Im getting a little fed up with being soft on these scumbags … its just so hard to play the game with these degenerates and their PC garbage and still be polite and above reproach when day in and day out we are subject to this constant barrage of outright fabrications and fairy story’s.

    Keep calling these neo liberals out , Martyn and … I reckon … a few posters up around town and on a few Varsity walls would stimulate a few laughs and some serious discussions, I would think…

    Titles could be ,…

    ‘ HAve A diP wIth nIck ‘


    ‘ Its gReAt tO be gReEN wiTh tHe nAtIonAL pArTY tEam’…

    Or even ,…

    ‘wE dOnt GivE a cOwSHit aBout yOur NeeD tO sKInNyDip’

    Reckon it’d catch on fast …

  6. Swimable rivers WAS a big part of the election campaign 4 years ago – oh how quickly we forget! I did vote for them because of this stance. Water is life – without it and our environment we are in deep s***.
    So simple real, but still people can’t get there head around it.

  7. Swimable rivers WAS a big part of the Greens election campaign four years ago – oh how quickly we forget! I did vote for the greens because of this stance. Water is life – without it and our environment we are in deep s***.
    So simple real, but still people can’t get there head around it.

  8. I used to swim in rivers a lot when I was a child. I even did it till about 10 years ago, but I wouldn’t do it any river in New Zealand now, yuk!
    The rivers make LOOK superficially clean, but they are full of nasties, but we can’t see most of them.
    That’s the reality of it, not what the National government tell us.

    • Ditto, Mike. I remember my parents taking us to camp by rivers and swim in the water. There’s no way I’d take my kids there now, and we warn every tourist we meet at our cafe to be equally careful. The real NZ is not the fantasy in our advertising brochures and overseas adverts. The real NZ is covered in greenery, while the waterways are clogged with filth. Smith’s rebranding of what constitutes a “smimmable” river is a sick joke.

  9. National has certainly created a rod for its own back in this regard.

    They should have stuck to a situation where there was no standard and no plan of action, like the previous Labour government had. 😉

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