Is that really true?

A Labour poster circulating on social media quotes Andrew Little saying: When I was a kid I used to be able to swim in any river and drink from it.

Is that really true?

When I was a kid the freezing works at Pukeuri had to build a huge tank to chlorinate water because the water from the Waitaki River, which supplied Oamaru, several smaller towns and many farms, was not of a high enough standard to wash export meat.

That was well before wide spread irrigation and intensive farming.

Many rivers should be cleaner than they are now and improving water standards where possible should be a priority.

But not all water degradation is the fault of people and farming.

Birds pollute waterways and some species are protected.

Some rivers never were clean enough to safely drink from and swim in and it would be impossible to get all of them to that standard.

I question Little’s claim of how clean every river was when he was a kid and I know that the goal of having every river swimmable and drinkable will never be attained.

45 Responses to Is that really true?

  1. Andrei says:

    It’s never been true and never will be

    Nature is what it is – birds crap in rivers while dogs pee on river bank flora and the fish and marine biota carry internal parasites…

    You can even contract giardia from drinking water in mountain streams fed by melting snow – its been known to occur

  2. Will says:

    You have always had to boil water from streams and rivers to be safe and everyone knows it. I hate the lies they tell.

  3. Roger Barton says:

    Little is preaching a sermon his tribe will want to hear.
    In the late 1960s, as a kid, I used to often help my dairy neighbour milk his 60 or so cows through his walk through bails.
    After milking the solid turds got added, via square mouth shovel, to the pumpkin patch and the rest of the “goodies” were forcibly jetted out the gap at the back of the yard to the waiting stream. Further down the pig effluent joined the same stream. So I say “pigs arse” to Andy’s little story!

  4. JC says:

    It would be more true to state that nobody cared that from mountains to the sea farm stock had unfenced access to the rivers, that septic tanks discharged into them and small towns discharged their wastes into them and that industries cheerfully discharged industrial and animal wastes into them.

    In fact, not a few people were more worried about the health of public swimming baths than swimming in rivers.
    Its ironic that in Andy’s yoof there were about 70 million sheep compared to 30 million now.. that loss of 40 million represents on a ewe equivalent basis of 7 about 5.7 million dairy cows.

    I guess what it all means is that its only pollution when someone tells you about it.

    JC

  5. Mr E says:

    It is not just Andrew Little who seems to have lost historical perspective in the water quality debate.

    Our history was loaded with extremely bad practices that hurt water quality.

    Here are some quotes from ‘Murihiku The Story of Southland’.

    Dr William Cotterell letter to the Invercargill council exert 1874
    “Among these…. are dead rates and fowls, occasionally a dead cat or dog, deep holes containing garbage, and sometimes the decaying bodies of drowned animals, manure, and refuse heaps, cabbage stumps, potato peelings and meat bones, rotting rags and boxes, stagnant and slimy pools and drains of stinking water, and many others nuisances too numerous to particularise… I am acquainted with wells in this town, the water from which is absolutely poisonous.”

    Booked exerts
    “Towns as large as Gore were still putting raw sewage directly into a river as late as 1976, when its oxidation ponds were built. The government inspector of nuisances in Mataura in 1896 had such exotic responsibilities as stopping residents throwing their nightsoil over the bridge at night – although the objection can hardly have benn river pollutions, as the town discharged raw sewage (via 13 outlets) until the late 1980s. ”

    “Fever epidemics, often associated with poor public amenities, especially contaminated water, provided a major impetus to the development of Southland Hospital facilities. ”

    Here is a quote from the Ministry for the Environment. Environment New Zealand 2007

    “The Mataura River in Southland is an example of a major New Zealand waterway in which water quality has improved since point-source discharges of organic waste were reduced and/or received improved treatment before discharge. In 1975, 15.5 tonnes of organic waste were discharged into the river each day. By 2000, because of improvements to effluent treatment at a large meatworks alongside the river, the organic waste discharged had decreased to just over 3 tonnes a day. Similar reductions in the amount of suspended-solid material were achieved over
    the same period. While the Mataura River still has elevated nutrient and bacteria levels from non-point sources, marked improvements in the appearance of the river (less surface scum and foam) have been attributed to the reduction in organic matter entering it (Environment Southland, 2000)”

    Andrew Little was Born in 1965. He would have been kid when Gore and Mataura were pouring raw sewage into rivers.
    He also would have been a kid when it was common place for sheep dip containing organophosphates was pouring into rivers.
    And when Alliiance was pouring, scouring chemicals and offal into the Mataura river.

    There is no doubt – he could have swam and drunk the Mataura river as he suggests. What is doubtful is what his health status would have been afterwards.

  6. Mr E says:

    In 2002 the water recreational guideline was median value >126 E. coli/100 ml.

    In a 2004 Scarsbrook and McBride report – 14% of “Natural” sites failed that criteria.

    https://www.mfe.govt.nz/sites/default/files/ecoli-levels-nz-rivers-dec04.pdf

  7. Mr E says:

    In 2003 the water recreation guideline changed to 95th percentile >550 E. coli/100 ml.

    43% of the “Natural sites” failed the criteria.

  8. tinker says:

    Can you still swim at Gemmells Crossing ?

  9. homepaddock says:

    The Kakanui River has problems with birds upstream, see the links in the post, but the water is usually okay at Gemmells.

  10. TraceyS says:

    Not so long ago I had reason to look at the water quality data on the river nearest my childhood home. I was really surprised to find that the nutrient levels were high in the lower catchment. Surprised because there is no intensive farming in the area (never has been) and they are not light soils. There is quite a lot of natural bank erosion.

    There was one cleanish swimming hole that we used as kids but the eels were a turnoff. Further upstream was a deep and dirty black hole at the based of an old willow tree. No one would ever have dared swim there. You could drop a line down in there any time you wanted and pull out an eel from the murky depth. The next large hole was shaded by some big old macros and we never swam there either even though it was large enough. The shading and the muddy banks made it a dark and scary place. You couldn’t see far through the water and certainly not to the bottom (probably a good thing). I think that the tree litter would have affected the spot as well.

    I dreamed of having better swimming places as a kid and imagined what the river might be like – if the river bed was gravel for example. But it was never to be and will never be. Aside from the one cleanish hole.

  11. TraceyS says:

    “…stewards of the land not owners of it…”

    (http://tvnz.co.nz/q-and-a-news/swimmable-waterways-panel-video-6455128 at 6 min 59 sec).

    Non-owner farmer stewards are going to invest in improving the land and waterways? Doubt it.

    There’s no reason why land owners can’t also be good stewards.

  12. Roger Barton says:

    Can someone tell me who the ageing, balding gent was on the right of that video clip posted by TracyS?
    It always intrigues me that urbanites think they pay for water.
    He needs to clarify that they pay for supply lines and reticulate on, which may include pumping.
    Anyone who supplies their own waster will have those costs. Admittedly they can run from minimal to major. I understand that in some cases where water is purchased in times of urgency there will be a charge over and above the cost of delivery but once again this is more a reflection of the real cost to supply, often including treatment to potable standards, rather than a specific charge for the bare product. At an annual plan meeting in Greytown some years ago I expressed surprise that more urbanites didn’t capture roof water for their own use. The next participant supported the idea and then said council should subsidise this!

  13. Roger Barton says:

    “Reticulation”… I don’t like auto correct.

  14. Name Withheld says:

    The “ageing, balding”, and slightly overweight gent is Kim Campbell,
    chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association.

    His understanding of farming, and history of warfare, or lack of it is pretty evident.
    “A farm is just a business like any other”
    “Around the world over history there’s been wars about water.”

  15. Gravedodger says:

    Little must be a very old man or he had extremely limited exposure to natural rivers and streams in his yoof.
    Then again he might be just making stuff up for a current audience, now aint that the truf.

    Well said Roger, when we set up here in paradise, a colleague on the emergency response unit whose day job was with the local water supply maintenance crew, inquired as to where we were sourcing our water supply and when informed it would be rain water asked how were we going to make it potable !!!!!!

    After fifty three years of marriage we have only had three years of public water supply and that includes Omihi, Cheviot, Waipara Bideford and now here in Akaroa where we have made a minor concession with an under bench filter for cold drinking water.
    The three years of “public scheme water was in the old Akaroa Borough, before moving back into rural, when we had to get water for the scotch and gin from a friends spring. As potable water it was somewhat disingenuous to be fair, to call it drinkable.

    Prior to marriage I grew up on water from a stock race and had no issues but swmbo was challenged after growing up on CHCH city water that is the best, when she was exposed.

    The other concession we have made here, planting is planned to combine with roof design to allow only flying creatures to offer additives.

  16. TraceyS says:

    “His understanding of farming…is pretty evident.”

    I feel inadequate when talking about farming matters because I didn’t grow up on one and it’s not in my blood. But I have enough knowledge about farming and the environment to see that none of the Q+A panel had any real depth of understanding about the topic.

    At least the political scientist panelist stuck to what he knew (respect). The one in the middle, however, looked and sounded like she was addressing a class of primary school kids. That will never be a winner. Not with adults anyway.

  17. Mr E says:

    I think the last statement by Kim was quite correct. The conversation was very unsophisticated.

    The fact that the swim-ability discussion is being mooted as a possible election issue shows the strength of the Greens politics. But not the strength of the Greens logic.

    Swim-ability is determined by 2 variables. SIC, which is a subject visual assessment of the measurement site. And MAC an objective measure of Ecoli levels.

    Ecoli has been declining in our waterways for sometime. Both LAWA and MFE have been reporting more improving sites than deteriorating. So it is possible to conclude that the objective measures for swim-ability are improving.

    SIC on the other hand is subjective. Monitoring staff are required to visually assess any risk factors, like sewage outlets, storm drains, bird populations and agriculture.

    So we have a situation where, swim-ability measures are impacted by perceptions, and some politicians are apparently working to impact perceptions.

    It is a self fulfilling prophecy, that I think the Greens could be trying to cleverly exploit. It doesn’t endear me to them though.

    As dairy effluent systems, and human sewage schemes improve, as a result of consent requirements, real swim-ability will improve.
    If perceptions of agriculture continue to be dragged through the mud, I suspect measured swim-ability will decline.

  18. Dave Kennedy says:

    “Both LAWA and MFE have been reporting more improving sites than deteriorating. So it is possible to conclude that the objective measures for swim-ability are improving.”

    Mr E we have had this discussion many times before and yet you still lie. LAWA clearly states that the sites that are showing continuing degradation are those in pastural areas and it is the urban sites that have shown some improvement. The urban sites were amongst the most degraded (so it is widely acknowledged that farming isn’t the only cause) HOWEVER the much great volumes of water are deteriorating because of intensified farming. The improvements that many farmers have made have been negated by the rapidly increasing herd sizes.

    “However, water quality at the relatively small number of monitored sites in urban areas is generally improving. Urban streams make up less than one per cent of the total length of New Zealand’s rivers.”

    “Summary of national nutrient picture

    There is a lot of variability in the national nutrient data collected, which often corresponds to land use in a river’s catchment. Rivers drawing water from catchments that have predominately indigenous land-cover have generally very high quality water. In comparison, rivers in lowlands surrounded by pasture and cities are often of poorer water quality.”

    “Trends show that in some areas and for some nutrients, river water quality is decreasing, with pressure associated with land cover likely to be the driver for these changes.”

    “More pasture sites had an increase in nitrate-nitrogen concentrations over the last 10 years compared to a decrease in concentrations, whereas more urban and indigenous sites improved”

    “Higher concentrations of nitrate-nitrogen generally occur on the lowland regions of the Canterbury Plains, Southland, Waikato, Hauraki Plains, Manawatu Plains and Taranaki.”

    (all the above are direct quotes from LAWA that I have used countless times before, and yet Mr E refuses to acknowledge them)

    This is not just about perceptions but increased and improved monitoring. We also have a compounding problem in our lakes, estuaries and lagoons where sedimentation is causing many to flip and vast areas are suffering from increasing eutrophication.

    All freshwater scientists are in agreement about the extent of the problem and the causes.

    The Government uses the bottom line of rivers being wadeable and this is an extremely low standard, aiming for swimability (at normal flows) is surely a reasonable goal.

    One of the best things for our rivers will be the reduction in dairy herd size that is currently occurring, painful thought it will be for sharemilkers especially.

  19. Mr E says:

    Dave,

    You have made a rookie mistake. You seem to have completely misunderstood the issue and my point.

    Swim-ability is about microbial risk, not about nutrients. All of your silly claims are with regards to nutrients.

    Microbial risk is measured by Ecoli. This is what LAWA say regarding Ecoli:

    “Our analysis showed no significant trend at the majority of monitoring sites across all four land-use types. Overall, however, more sites improved (13%), than worsened (8%). A number of monitoring sites in urban areas improved (23%), but these rivers represent less than 1% of the New Zealand total (indicated graphically by the small size of the column):

    http://www.lawa.org.nz/explore-data/river-quality/national-picture/faecal-indicators/

    I’d expect and apology from anyone else regarding lying claims. But I don’t expect one from you Dave.

  20. Dave Kennedy says:

    Oh dear Mr E, I didn’t expect a repeat of our previous debates where you stubbornly refuse to accept the evidence:
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/75371313/more-rivers-in-canterbury-unsafe-to-swim-in.html

    You obviously also don’t understand that nitrogen and phosphorus create toxic algae that are also dangerous to swimmers.

    Again you still have no understanding of what you are reading. In the case of Ecoli more sites improved than worsened but this is nothing to do with volumes. The urban sites improved the most but they only represent 1% of the total.

  21. Mr E says:

    Dave,

    “You obviously also don’t understand that nitrogen and phosphorus create toxic algae that are also dangerous to swimmers.”

    I’m feeling generous so I will do you a kind favour, one chance to get things right:

    No I don’t understand that Nitrogen and Phosphorus create toxic algae ,. Toxic algae, Cyanobacteria are also known as blue green algae, and populations increase as a result of low water flow, and/or warm water. Your article described the drought conditions that could possibly cause problems. It didn’t describe recorded issues with Cyanobacteria. It didn’t describe any link between Cyanobacteria and nutrients.

    Can you please describe the link between Nitrogen and Phosphate and Toxic Algae….. ? I’m happy to consider research on the matter.

    Remember Dave, it is ok to be wrong.

    “In the case of Ecoli more sites improved than worsened but this is nothing to do with volumes. The urban sites improved the most but they only represent 1% of the total.”

    Go to my link Dave, you will see that more pastoral sites improved than deteriorated too. Both Urban and Pastoral sites supported the claim that ‘more sites improved (13%), than worsened (8%)’.

    http://www.lawa.org.nz/explore-data/river-quality/national-picture/faecal-indicators/

    “Again you still have no understanding of what you are reading”

    Interesting you say that. I have the MFE river condition indicator data on my computer. I have considered their conclusions from the top to the bottom.

    MFE conclude the same outcomes as LAWA. More sites improved (13%), than worsened (8%). You know Dave that the MFE river condition indicator is a model. They have modelled 574,502 sites. They modelled the sites to ensure that conclusion is a fair representation of water quality?

    Do you think that the Green party has the ability to recognise positive gains when positive gains exist? Serious question.

  22. Dave Kennedy says:

    Mr E, I have to give you points for determination when all evidence is against you. 😉

    You stated that it is only Ecoli that makes rivers dangerous for swimming and yet that is clearly not true. Toxic algae or cyanobacteria is caused by warm conditions, low rainfall and reduced flows in combination with high nutrient levels.
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/76019705/Toxic-algae-makes-Mastertons-Waipoua-River-unsafe-for-swimming

    Here is your beloved LAWA’s explanation:
    “Plants need certain nutrients to grow, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus. High concentrations of these nutrients in water bodies can cause excessive aquatic plant growth rates, and some nutrients are toxic to aquatic organisms. High plant growth rates can lead to algal blooms and nuisance weeds, which can alter river condition by changing the acidity or oxygen levels. Such algal blooms can also reduce the recreational and aesthetic values of water bodies and block water intakes and pumping systems”.

    Interestingly this combination often occurs in the middle of Summer when people are wanting to swim and in Canterbury increased irrigation has also impacted on river flows. You will have noted in my many links that the Canterbury region has an overall deterioration of water quality that can’t be celebrated.

    In your desperation to prove your case you are isolating elements within LAWA that indicates some improvement and demanding that I recognise positive gains. In doing so you are implying there is an overall improvement in water quality when there clearly isn’t. Yes, let us recognise the efforts of many farmers and local authorities to improve outcomes but not if it is to diminish the extent of the overall problem and the real causes.

    I also think it is also dishonest to talk about birds as if their effects on water quality are every bit as concerning as agriculture. This is clearly a straw man as natural areas that have not been impacted by agriculture and urbanisation have high quality water, despite large bird populations.

    Another area that is a good indicator of general water quality is the health of macroinvertebrate communities and this is what LAWA states:

    “Overall, no significant trend was detected for any land use class at the majority of monitoring sites shown by the grey colour in the graph below. This doesn’t necessarily mean that there were no trends, but instead, because the sites are only sampled annually, there are not enough data points available to identify significant trends. However, where a change was detected, there were more worsening trends than improving in all land-cover classes. Pasture land cover exhibited the highest proportion of sites showing improvement but also the highest proportion of deteriorating sites.”

    This is a useful statement as it explains your flaws in your past argument that “no trends” means that there is no significant change. It actually means that there isn’t enough data collected to safely claim a change. Given that where reliable data is available it has indicated “more worsening trends than improving in all land-cover classes” we must assume that as more reliable data comes to hand it will most likely support this conclusion.

    “Do you think that the Green party has the ability to recognise positive gains when positive gains exist?”
    We have a whole section in our website celebrating good farm stories: https://home.greens.org.nz/goodfarmstories

    What we won’t do is allow people like yourself to suggest enough is being done and good progress is being made. Our waterways are generally in a shocking state still and the overall trend is a deteriorating one according to LAWA.

    I am reminding of that well known saying – you can lead a horse to….

    You are reading the LAWA material with one eye covered Mr E.

  23. Mr E says:

    Dave – where is the answer to my question?:

    Can you please describe the link between Nitrogen and Phosphate and Toxic Algae….. ?

    Much of the rest of your remarks are nonsense.
    I’ll deal to those distractions once you’ve answered the simple question.

  24. Dave Kennedy says:

    “Can you please describe the link between Nitrogen and Phosphate and Toxic Algae….. ?”

    Third paragraph in my last comment has a quote from LAWA
    “Plants need certain nutrients to grow, particularly nitrogen and phosphorus. High concentrations of these nutrients in water bodies can cause excessive aquatic plant growth rates, and some nutrients are toxic to aquatic organisms. High plant growth rates can lead to algal blooms…”

    Also from https://www.epa.gov/nutrientpollution/harmful-algal-blooms

    What causes harmful algal blooms?
    Harmful algal blooms need:
    Sunlight
    Slow-moving water
    Nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus)

    Also:
    The presence of extensive mats of cyanobacteria is linked with environmental conditions conducive to their growth. Favourable conditions include the right combination of warm temperatures, sunlight, low or stable river flows, and nutrients… human activities, such as taking water from rivers or adding nutrients and sediment to waterways, can make things worse.

    http://ecan.govt.nz/services/online-services/monitoring/swimming-water-quality/pages/potentially-toxic-cyanobacteria.aspx

    It seems as if I have to spell these things out several times for you to comprehend, I hope these three different official sources are enough.

    I look forward to your further responses but fear a repeat of your refusal to accept the facts in front of you.

  25. Gravedodger says:

    I wonder if Mr Kennedy would have an opinion on a local GP stalwart who discharges the product from a prehistoric Septic Tank directly into a minor stream that only gets flushed in times of heavy rain.
    I shudder when people laud their little cups of whitebait down stream but no deaths so no need to react.

    Similar when the Late Saint Rod Donald drove his smoking old VW Combi around the Peninsula as a mobile election slogan when a newer Suzuki or similar could have had the same impact politically albeit powered by an efficient modern engine sans the highly visible particulate emissions

    Of course it is different when the socialists do it Eh.

  26. Mr E says:

    Yes Dave,
    It is as I thought. You are not up with the play on recent research. And you also seem to be terribly confused.

    In NZ commonly cyanobacteria has been found in “relatively clean waters”. This is well recognised. That is not to say that nutrients don’t support growth, it is that in our water ways temperature and waterflows are the main divers, and commonly where nutrients are high, filamentous algae restrict the growth of cyanobacteria.

    This is what the Nelson regional council say:

    “Toxic algae (also known as Cyanobacteria and blue-green algae because of the cyano colour of cells) are true bacteria that live like algae and are naturally present in many New Zealand waterways. Toxic algae are found in ‘clean’ rivers and less likely to be present in high nutrient load waters where filamentous algae grow. The growth of toxic algae is encouraged when river flows are low and stable, and temperatures are consistently warm.”

    Lately researchers have found that increased levels of Nitrogen and Phosphate, results in reduced levels of the toxins in cyanobacteria (anatoxins). (Mark Heath WRC 2014, Feb 2016). The recent explanation/theory has been that toxins are created by the bacteria in response to low nutrient status. The inference and application is that dangerous cyanobacteria could be more likely to exist in cleaner waters.

    To say that toxic algae are worse in high nutrient situations is overly simplisitc, wrong in many occasions, going against emerging science and some experts experience.

    I should also point out that your reference to LAWA is with regard to Algae. Not specifically toxic algae. They are distinctly different, so your use of this citation is irrelevant.

    Next question:

    You seem to be suggesting that the ‘Ecoli – no trends’ are possibly simply ‘not enough data’ issues, because the recently created MCI index has that issue. Can you verify that?

  27. Dave Kennedy says:

    Mr E, you are pin head dancing again, you asked for a link between nutrients and toxic algae and I found some, it can exacerbate a naturally occurring problem. It is not over-simplification to acknowledge a link (even if it isn’t the primary cause), it is still currently a recognised contributor. I am happy to accept any recent science that shows that higher nutrient loads may reduce the likelihood of toxic algae, but even if that were true you certainly wouldn’t support this as a preventative measure.

    Remember we are also discussing the effects of agriculture on our rivers and the increase of irrigation in Canterbury (a region where all data supports increasing water degradation) has caused lower river flows, which also encourages toxic algae. So even with cleaner water, agriculture is causing an increase in toxic algae through reducing flows.

    Although we had been talking in reference to swimming initially, any increase in algae (toxic or otherwise) is a problem as it reduces oxygen levels and chokes waterways. It often accompanies eutrophication in lagoons, estuaries and lakes.

    “You seem to be suggesting that the ‘Ecoli – no trends’ are possibly simply ‘not enough data’ issues, because the recently created MCI index has that issue.”

    I accept that there is actually a difference with the monitoring of Ecoli and the MCI index as the former is collected monthly and the latter annually (and therefore problematic for detecting trends). No trend for Ecoli does actually mean that no trend was detected. However while any improvement should be recognised we still have a situation where 87% of sites recorded no change or deterioration for Ecoli. We must also acknowledge the status of the 79% of sites where there is no change:
    “River reaches in catchments dominated by pasture and exotic forest are estimated to have median concentrations 40 times and ten times higher, respectively than streams running through predominantly indigenous land cover. The source of the high concentrations in pasture is likely to be grazing animals and possibly septic systems.”

    Your argument appears to support the idea that there is some modest improvement in water quality that we should celebrate and there is no longer any urgency to do even more than we are or place more pressures on farmers (if I have misrepresented you please correct me).

    My argument is that the levels of degradation are so great that the modest improvements show a lack of urgency. Trying to shift blame to septic tanks, urban sewage treatment and birds is disingenuous. While all cause problems, and should also be addressed, the largest contributing factor by far is still agriculture.

    You must also acknowledge the fact that the increase in sediments and nutrients through the intensification of farming is causing a compounding effect on our lakes, estuaries and lagoons. Even if farmers make huge strides in their environmental management, much of the long term damage has already been done and even modest future levels of pollutants may push these water systems over the brink.

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/stratford-press/rural/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503385&objectid=11372094

  28. Mr E says:

    Dave
    “Mr E, you are pin head dancing again,”

    People call it ‘using science’, you Greens should try it some time.

    “you asked for a link between nutrients and toxic algae and I found some”

    And wasn’t it mind blowing….!

    “it can exacerbate a naturally occurring problem.”

    Recent science says high phosphate diminishes the growth of cyanobacteria. The opposite of what you claimed. Recent science suggests you are wrong.

    “Cyanobacteria was less likely to bloom in more polluted rivers, such as the Waikato, because it needed to be in waterways that were low in phosphorus.”
    Dr Wood 2013

    On the other hand cyanobacteria growth can be elevated by nitrogen.
    Dr Mark Heath 2016

    The problem is cell growth is only part of the problem with toxic bacteria. The bacteria need to produce the toxic metabolites to be a problem. Low levels of both phosphate and nitrogen support this. High levels of phosphate and nitrogen do not.

    “Cellular anatoxin concentrations were lowest (169 fg cell−1) under the high-nitrogen and high-phosphorus treatment.”
    Dr Mark Heath 2016

    “It is not over-simplification to acknowledge a link”

    The way you did was.

    “even if that were true you certainly wouldn’t support this as a preventative measure.”

    What is certain is low phosphate won’t help reduce cyanobacteria. Even low levels of Nitrate, cyanobactia can occur, driven by warmth and water levels. At these low nitrate levels, recent science is suggesting the cyanobacteria are very toxic.

    Nobody wants more P or N in the water. But claiming less P and N will improve swim-ability because of lower toxic algae risk is wrong.

    From that point of view Nutrients are off the table when it comes to recreational use.

    So lets move along.

    ‘ accept that there is actually a difference…..’ You mean you accept you were wrong….. Very well.

    “Your argument appears to support the idea that there is some modest improvement in water quality that we should celebrate”

    ANY improvement should be celebrated…. Credit where credit is due….. It may have been because Dairy farmers fenced off waterways? Or maybe the huge investment in effluent management? Regardless well done dairy farmers.

    “there is no longer any urgency to do even more than we are or place more pressures on farmers (if I have misrepresented you please correct me).”

    I think urgent actions without properly understanding the issues leads to greater problems. Your errors when referring to cyanobacteria are a good example.

    I also think that pressuring the masses is not needed. If there is an obvious problem, it is well understood and the solutions are obvious, the masses will come. Pressuring the masses to solve poorly understood issues shows and unpleasant contempt for humanity.

    Education is the solution. I shouldn’t need to explain this to a retired teacher.

    I think there is a problem with a number of septic tank systems. Regarding rural ones, I think the first step is understanding the problems and considering the solutions. Rules supporting old system monitoring are sensible.

    I believe this knowledge would result in a lot of solutions.

    “the largest contributing factor by far is still agriculture.”

    You can’t claim this is the case when it comes to ecoli. There are many contributing factors in pastoral zones. Show me evidence that proves farming contributes the most to ecoli. You do need evidence when you make unkind claims don’t you?

    “You must also acknowledge the fact that the increase in sediments and nutrients through the intensification of farming is causing a compounding effect on our lakes, estuaries and lagoons.”

    We are talking about swim-ability. Stay on topic.

  29. Dave Kennedy says:

    Mr E, you have done a lot of research since we last had this discussion but it still doesn’t help your case.

    96% of lowland monitored sites are now unsafe for swimming. The Canterbury region has shown serious decline overall especially regarding nitrogen concentrations.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/business/farming/dairy/74269045/farmers-not-convinced-about-water-quality-decline-survey-shows.html

    While there has been some improvement in urban monitoring sites (which represent only 1% of total rivers), pastural areas have not shown the same progress, especially regarding nitrogen levels where more sites have deteriorated than improved.

    Five factors are monitored to assess river quality by LAWA: Total Phosphorus, Dissolved Reactive Phosphorus, Nitrogen, MCI and Faecal Indicators (Ecoli).

    For Phosphorus 60% of rivers showed no trend and 10% were declining. Only 30% showed some improvement. This was the second best result of the four areas.

    DRP showed the most improvement (40% of sites) but because this occurred over all land use types it was thought that this was related to climatic change rather than changes in land management.

    Nitrogen had more sites deteriorate than improve and 25% of sites had got worse and the most significant decline occurred in pasture sites.

    With MCI, where trends could be detected there were more worsening trends than sites that showed improvement.

    13% of monitored sites showed an improvement of Ecoli levels while 87% of sites showed no trend or got worse (8% of sites deteriorated).

    Given that only 4% of lowland rivers are considered safe for swimming and there was some deterioration in quality occurring in more rivers than improving I don’t see what there is to celebrate.

    I think that we should be far more aspirational than having safe wading as the bottom line. For a country keen to promote our clean green credentials aiming to have all rivers swimmable during natural flows seems reasonable.

    Education is only one part of the solution and the experience of the Clean Streams Accord proved that having the knowledge doesn’t guarantee that it will be followed through. We also need to invest in cleaning up our water rather than spending more on putting even more pressure on it ($400 million on new irrigation schemes).

    Mr E’s useful comments have shown that we have the increasing risk of toxic algae when river volumes are depleted and our climate gets warmer. Irrigation and GHG are also contributing to lower water quality.

    It is a bleak picture:
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/9425346/Dairy-farming-harming-water

  30. Mr E says:

    Dave,
    “Mr E, you have done a lot of research since we last had this discussion but it still doesn’t help your case”

    We’ve not had a discussion specific to ecoli and swim-ability. I think you are either confused or are trying some desperate attempt at misdirection.

    MCI, DRP, N have little to do with the safe use of our rivers for recreation.

    Ecoli is the contaminant that measures recreation usability. More sites are improving than deteriorating.

    But lets consider the consequences of Ecoli levels in water – Medical surveys.

    Ecoli is recorded at such low level that it does not feature in the ESR’s annual survey statistics. And actually when it is mentioned in its quaterly reports – it is often not environmental. In the Mar 2016 report there were outbreaks of ecoli at early childhood centres. Nothing to do with water quality. And we are talking about single digit incidences.

    I suppose it is possible that ecoli is never fully diagnosed and is reported as Gastroenteritis (a catch all term)

    In the 12 month period to Mar 2016 there were 505 notifications of Gastro. The previous 12 months there were 756. Less have occurred. Who knows how many of these were ecoli if any – but at any rate there is a decline in a possible measure.

    To put that into context – during the same period there were 696 notifications of Cryptosporidosis and 1512 notifications of Giardiasis and 258 cases of Legionellosis.

    Considering the cases of giardia and cryptosporidia – any urgent attention should be directed towards public toilets, water filters at tourist locations and education for at risk people.

    The point is health data suggest Ecoli is a relatively small health issue, and environmental measures suggest it is improving.

    Here is a good article – even some good comments…

    http://sciblogs.co.nz/waiology/2013/10/23/bugs-in-the-system-how-do-we-make-sense-of-recreational-water-quality/

    This lining up of farming and its impacts on swim-ability seems misinformed and misdirected.

    “Education is only one part of the solution and the experience of the Clean Streams Accord proved that having the knowledge doesn’t guarantee that it will be followed through.”

    In 2013 Fonterra reported ” by 1 December, it is expected that over 90 per cent of waterways will have stock exclusion in place” meeting the obligation of the Clean Streams Accord.

    Do you have any evidence post 2013 to doubt that?

  31. Mr E says:

    “If a site fails to meet the bacteriological standard, that doesn’t actually mean it is ‘unsafe’. And there’s a degree of ignorance, and/or political grandstanding, over how good or bad NZ’s freshwater recreational spots actually are.”

    Gary Bedford 2013

  32. Gravedodger says:

    I think the point has been made that using water to create wealth is bad and all rivers should flow into the sea untouched.

    Little’s notion (being kind here) that every creek and pond in his youth was a utopian body of clean water is a total crock.
    Damn lucky he didn’t want to attempt a random drowning in the Cam that flowed through Kaiapoi with a woolscour, a soap factory and a freezing works as main offenders, but they provided jobs and unless I missed somefing, aint dat whot Cardy two shoes wants more of

    In an age when school pools are being closed due in large part from a lack of qualified personal to supervise means that taken to a conclusion it will be deemed too dangerous to allow swimming in ad hoc waters under healf and safty rules.

    Reading too much of Mr Ken-neddy has me reaching for the Prozac so it is easier to go and do somefing pwoductive.

  33. Dave Kennedy says:

    “Do you have any evidence post 2013 to doubt that?”

    Mr E, there are a number of individual cases popping up where farmers ignore advice and guidelines.
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/waikato-times/70831160/dirty-coromandel-dairy-farmer-fined-for-fouling-river
    Potential still exists for self reporting to be skewed as it was in 2011. It is going to take a while before trust is restored across the industry and we can rely on education and honesty alone.
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/hamilton-news/rural/news/article.cfm?c_id=1503361&objectid=11049078

    “In the 12 month period to Mar 2016 there were 505 notifications of Gastro. The previous 12 months there were 756. Less have occurred. Who knows how many of these were ecoli if any – but at any rate there is a decline in a possible measure.”

    This proves nothing unless you have some context around the numbers swimming and those becoming ill. There is a good chance fewer people feel comfortable swimming in our rivers and therefore don’t.

    The article you linked to is a good one and i was especially interested in this comment:

    “There are bathing water quality risks other than faecal microbial contaminants (e.g. some cyanobacteria) which aren’t well-sorted yet.”

    Cyanobacteria is linked with nutrient rich water.

    However your argument about the need for greater clarity about what actually constitutes a swimmable river is a good one to support the fact that making swimability a goal may actually be more achievable than many thought. It is actually a form of ‘own goal’ 😉

  34. Dave Kennedy says:

    Gravedodger, the extreme view is that freshwater that reaches the sea is a wasted resource but that view is based on pure ignorance. The integrity of a river environment or that of an aquifer changes as the water is sucked out for different purposes. Often there are unpredicted consequences.

    Friends of mine lost their farm when the Manapouri Power scheme was extended. Their farm was near the mouth of the Waiau and when the volume of water flow dropped they found that the mouth wasn’t always kept open, their farm became prone to flooding and became uneconomic.

    The integrity of the ecosystems around a river mouth changes when the fresh water volumes diminish and estuaries and wetlands suffer too. Believe it or not maintaining biodiversity has economic value and when you exploit a resource for a narrow economic purpose you can unintentionally have an impact on other important economies. Sustainability is key.

    My advice is to take less of the Prozac as you appear to be developing a serious speech impediment 😉

  35. Mr E says:

    ” There is a good chance fewer people feel comfortable swimming in our rivers and therefore don’t.”

    You’re possibly right. The Greens could have unnecessarily frightened people out of the waters.
    That proves people should listen to the Nats who have a pragmatic and factual approach. Compared to the Greens ‘ignorant grandstanding’ approach.

    “Cyanobacteria is linked with nutrient rich water.”

    The link being phosphate rich waters have less toxic algae, and where toxic algae exists, high nitrogen and phosphate rivers are less toxic.

    Thanks for pointing that out again. Own goal indeed.

    ” swimability a goal may actually be more achievable than many thought.”
    So achievable you just ditch your grand standing ways, your grand dads jumper, adorn you swimmers and go for it!

  36. Dave Kennedy says:

    “The link being phosphate rich waters have less toxic algae, and where toxic algae exists, high nitrogen and phosphate rivers are less toxic.”
    However the science around Cyanobacteria is underdone and there is a strong connection to higher nutrient loads.

    Mr E, I have used links to LAWA (that you support as an authority) to show that the general state of our lowland rivers in pastural areas is pretty dire. Where there has been some progress in relation to Phosphate and Ecoli it has been negated by the overall increases in nitrogen and worsening trends in MCI. In reality there is little to celebrate.

    There is also no evidence to support a soft regime to improve water quality (education), many farmers are genuine in lifting their environmental standards but the dairy industry as a whole has serious trust issues still.

    “You’re possibly right. The Greens could have unnecessarily frightened people out of the waters.”
    I think you will have to blame LAWA, the scientists, the Environment Commissioner, Ecan and lots of other authorities for that, Mr E. They are the ones that monitor the swimming holes and deem them safe or not, not the Green Party, we just repeat what is reported elsewhere:
    http://www.stuff.co.nz/environment/75371313/More-rivers-in-Canterbury-unsafe-to-swim-in

    My other concern is that this Government uses wadeability as a bottom line expectation for river quality and yet you have shown that swimability is an achievable goal. I thank you for supporting that. Let us have that as the goal for all waterways 😉

  37. Mr E says:

    “Cyanobacteria is underdone and there is a strong connection to higher nutrient loads.”

    Because we have Dr Mark Heath and his research, NZ is considered as world leading in Cyanobacteria research. Mark’s science is opposite to your claims.

    That sums up the Greens though eh? Behind the times. In denial about progress. Ignorant of science when it doesn’t suit them.

    “I have used links to LAWA (that you support as an authority) to show that the general state of our”

    LAWA don’t report suitability for recreation measures. They do report e-coli, a component of suitability for recreation. That is improving in more sites than declining.

    “Where there has been some progress in relation to Phosphate and Ecoli”

    Yay!!!!! Celebrate!!!!!
    I can imagine you saying “well done dairy farmers”.
    I can also imagine you apologising for accusing me of lies, when I said similar.
    Thanks Dave.

    “the dairy industry as a whole has serious trust issues still.”

    Seemingly only in your narrow mind Dave.

    “blame LAWA, the scientists, the Environment Commissioner, Ecan ”

    Ummm, LAWA don’t report on the suitability for recreation index.
    I can’t recall the Commissioner referring to recreation.
    This is what ECan said in the link you provided.
    “An ECan spokesman said people should not be wary about swimming in rivers, as water quality in Canterbury was generally good.”

    Huge own goal there Dave.

    “you have shown that swimability is an achievable goal.”

    MFE, and ECan have shown swimibility is a relality, whilst taking a precautionary approach. The government has supported their valuable science, whilst reviewing improvements to measures. Well done Nats. Good approach.

  38. TraceyS says:

    Then the RMA definition of waterway (ie. river) will need to be greatly narrowed. Many ditches and infrequently flowing creeks and even gullies come under the interpretation of river. Some so-called rivers indeed only flow water in times of heavy rain – not because they have been sucked dry but because a consistent flow is physically impossible. Should these waterways be made swimmable?

    I’d be all for a goal of swimmability in exchange for a more sensible definition of river. How about starting the debate with coming to agreement on what a river is? Only then can sense be made of swimmability.

  39. Dave Kennedy says:

    Mr E, your cherry picking expertise is right up there with the best when this was the dominant message in the whole article:

    “This summer, 64 per cent of river sites monitored by Environment Canterbury (ECan) have been deemed safe for swimming, down from 74 per cent five years ago. When the Government replaced the elected council with commissioners in 2010 – supposedly because it was failing to meet water targets – the commissioners aimed to have 80 per cent of rivers swimmable by 2015.”

    I’m sorry but I don’t call a 10% decline in swimable sites progress.

    The Commissioner led Ecan failed to meet the 80% target by 2015 and instead led a substantial decline in quality. The region did produce more milk though.

    “Well done Nats. Good approach.”

    Really?

    Southland hasn’t fared to well either:

    “Many of Southland’s waterways are still unsuitable for recreational activities, compared to upcoming central government regulations, the Institute of Environmental Services and Research says.”

    “Ecoli acts as an indicator for other pathogens, including Campylobacteriosis, Cryptosporidiosis and Giardiasis, of which New Zealand has the highest levels in the developed world, Moriarty said.”

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/southland-times/news/69857307/Ecoli-test-indicates-many-Southland-waterways-unsuitable-for-swimming

    Not only is New Zealand rapidly losing its clean green image we have also internationally known as a haven for criminals and tax cheats.

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/cif-green/2009/nov/12/new-zealand-greenwash

    http://covisory.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/PAPER-5-NZ-TAX-HAVEN.pdf

  40. Dave Kennedy says:

    Not many people voluntarily swim in ditches, Tracey, but a clearer definition of different waterways may be helpful as the one used for the clean streams accord was a dismal failure:
    “Progress reports on achieving the performance targets are prepared annually. The 2006-2007 report, released in February 2008, notes 83% compliance for the target of excluding cattle from waterways, 97% for bridging waterways, 93% for correct dairy farm effluent treatment and a 64-97% for preventing nutrient losses.[4] The integrity of this data was later questioned when a 2012 independent report commissioned by MAF indicated that while Fonterra’s survey of farmers suggests that nationally 84% of properties have stock excluded from waterways, an independent audit by the Ministry of Primary idustries revealed a position that only 42% of farms nationally had stock exclusion.[5] A scientist at the University of Waikato described the 2006/2007 report as self-congratulatory and accused the Government of a lack of leadership.”

  41. Dave Kennedy says “I also think it is also dishonest to talk about birds as if their effects on water quality are every bit as concerning as agriculture.”

    This is what really pisses me off about the Greens. They just hate agriculture and don’t really care about other causes of pollution.

    That Q&A piece on water quality was disgustingly biased. They didn’t talk to anyone from the agriculture industry at all.

  42. Dave Kennedy says:

    James read my other comments, we don’t disregard other sources but are concerned that those causing the bulk of the problems are too busy pointing their finger elsewhere. Mr E is especially enthusiastic about making the problem seem much less of an issue than it is and interpreting evidence in biased way.

  43. Mr E says:

    “Ecoli acts as an indicator for other pathogens, including Campylobacteriosis, Cryptosporidiosis and Giardiasis, of which New Zealand has the highest levels in the developed world, Moriarty said.”

    Interesting you cited that Dave,

    Can you provide me the correlation between Ecoli with the other pathogens mentioned?

    The reason why I ask is there is Italian evidence to suggest Ecoli and the likes of Cryptosporidiosis have no correlation.

    “Occurrence of indicator and pathogenic bacteria,
    bacteriophages and Cryptosporidium has been monitored in polluted surface water. No correlation has been found between Cryptosporidium concentration and that of the other organisms. ”
    R. BRIANCESCO etal 1999.

    Where other studies have suggested correlations are at best weak.
    “Relationships between indicator bacteria, pathogens, and parasite oocysts/cysts were overall weak”

    “The results from this study indicate that no one indicator or simple hydrological index is entirely suitable for all environmental systems and pathogens/parasites, even within a common geographic setting.”

    Wilkes G 2009

    Australian studies have found the most common strains of Cryptosporidium and Giardia in sheep are not commonly found in humans. In this study, the most common Cryptospordia strain found in humans was not found in sheep at all (in their study).

    “These results suggest that the public health risk of sheep-derived Cryptosporidium and Giardia spp. in catchment areas and effluent may be overestimated”

    Una M. Ryan etal 2005.

    All this makes sense in the NZ context. Ecoli is declining – whilst Giardia and Cyptosporidium incidences are increasing. At the same time more livestock are fenced from waterways than ever before, and Tourism has become our second biggest earner.

    Then there are septic tank systems. Human waste.
    Apparently we have 12,000 in Southland. And according to MFE 15-50% nationally are failing.

    “Environment Southland says that when one tank is malfunctioning it can cause part of a lake, stream or river to become dangerous to swim in or to catch fish there.”

    In 2014 Kennington residents found 16 out of 20 sewage systems were failing.

    “John Youngson said a high level of sewerage-system failure had resulted in surface and ground water being contaminated with human faeces and pollution in the nearby Waihopai River.”

    Since then – what has happened? Gestation or rumination.

  44. Dave Kennedy says:

    Wow Mr E, you have gone to a lot of trouble to show that Ecoli is less of a threat to public health than is currently understood by public health officials.

    I think you are wasting your Italian evidence on me as I am just repeating what i have read elsewhere. You need to lead a national campaign to make this evidence more widely known and encourage the idea that swimmable rivers will be more easily achieved than Nick Smith claims.

    I am more than happy to support a campaign that is based on scientific evidence and uses safe swimming as a bottom line rather than wading. You would obviously agree with this approach.

    I am more than happy to see funding to support a shift from septic tanks to composting toilets and improving sewerage treatment.

    All strength to you 😉

  45. Mr E says:

    “Wow Mr E, you have gone to a lot of trouble”

    Using available science is not a lot of trouble. It is a minimum standard any of us should use if we are going to make effective change.

    Making change on a band wagon whim is is fool hardy in my opinion. We are likely to cost the wrong people and more than likely be completely ineffective. A concern I have about the Greens approach.

    “I think you are wasting your Italian evidence on me”

    I have heard people say that the Greens are anti science. Your comment here is the best evidence I have seen of this.

    “I am just repeating what i have read elsewhere”

    And now you have heard more in depth here the science of the matter. I wonder if you will repeat what you have heard here? Or keep repeating what suits your political goal?

    “You need to lead a national campaign to make this evidence more widely known ”

    I will take this as support. Thanks….. But I am not a politician, you are. It is your job to challenge effective policy making. Now you are more informed I will wait to see if there is a change in the Greens rhetoric.

    “You would obviously agree”

    Potentially. It needs to be a practical and cost effective approach, as well as targeting the problem. I know ES are researching the source of ecoli. I am a little concerned about this as potentially it says little about the greater health issues of Giardia and Crytosporidium.

    But any knowledge helps and I’ll watch with interest.

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