Thursday, February 23, 2017

A literal bullshit standard

One of New Zealand's biggest environmental problems is fresh water. Industrial dairying is polluting our rivers, turning them from public recreation spaces to open sewers full of cowshit. This is turning into a political headache for the government, so they've decided to do something about it, announcing an "ambitious" new target for 90% of our rivers to be swimmable by 2040:

The Government has set a target of making 90 per cent of New Zealand's rivers and streams safe for swimming by 2040.

That means all waterways will have to meet the safe standard for E.coli contamination 80 per cent of the time.

Announcing the target in Auckland today, Environment Minister Nick Smith said 72 per cent of New Zealand's were currently "swimmable", according to a standard used in Europe and the US.

Raising that level to 90 per cent would require cleaning up 10,000km of waterways, and would cost Government, farmers and councils an estimated $2 billion. Farmers would have to build 56,000km of fencing.

Sounds good right? Except that it turns out that its the usual National party spin job. Rather than actually cleaning up any rivers, they've simply relabelled unswimmable rivers as "swimmable":
The acceptable swimmable standard given in the Ministry for the Environment and Ministry for Health’s microbiological guidelines is a E.coli count of <260 per 100 mL of water. To meet the Ministries’ standard, waterways must pass this 95% of the time.

The Ministry of Health’s drinking water standard is an E.coli count of <1 per 100 mL of water.

The standards the Land and Water Forum advise would see a grade given to rivers based on the amount of time they meet a standard of E.coli <550 per 100 mL of water (this count is called ‘Alert’ in the MfE/MoH guidelines).

According to National, a "swimmable" river is one that makes you sick 5% of the time. But that's not swimmable - its literally bullshit. But for National, its not about actually solving the problem - its about giving them a talking point so they can pretend they are in election year. And meanwhile, in reality, our rivers will continue to fill up with shit and become unusable to the public.