New research conducted by Our Land and Water highlights significant challenges facing New Zealand in meeting its water quality objectives given the existing state of contaminants in freshwater and current land use practices, reports RNZ.
The study examined 2020 levels of nitrogen, phosphorus, E coli, and sediment in rivers, lakes and estuaries across the country.
The finding reveal that nearly every region in New Zealand exceeds the prescribed limits for at least one contaminant, emphasizing the urgency of addressing these issues.
The study underscores the magnitude of the task at hand in reducing contaminant levels to meet the safe or "bottom line" criteria outlined in the government's National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020. The required reductions for nitrogen, phosphorus, E. coli, and sediment range from 24 to 66 percent, varying by region. Particularly concerning is the prevalence of E. coli, with three-quarters of Aotearoa's land contributing more E. coli to freshwater than current regulations permit.
Ton Snelder, the lead author of the study, said the largest reductions to be made were of E coli.
"It is different for each contaminant," Snelder said.
"E coli is a ubiquitous contaminant and obviously, it's associated with warm-blooded animals.
"There are levels of E coli in all parts of the environment, including parts in a natural state."
The finding reveal that nearly every region in New Zealand exceeds the prescribed limits for at least one contaminant, emphasizing the urgency of addressing these issues
The report identifies specific targets for reduction, such as Canterbury needing to decrease nitrogen by 44 percent and Southland by 41 percent. However, achieving such reductions may require reevaluating current land use practices in some regions. The study highlights the complexity of the situation and the necessity for informed policy decisions.
The coalition government, as indicated in the agreement between National and ACT, faces tough choices ahead. Proposed changes involve replacing the current National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 to provide district councils with more flexibility in meeting environmental limits. Additionally, seeking advice on exempting councils from obligations under the existing policy is under consideration.
Jenny Webster-Brown, the director of Our Land and Water National Science Challenge, expresses hope that the new government will not overhaul the legislation or alter the standards.
"[This study] is not a call for a revision or a rethink of the national bottom lines - it is simply an account of what we need to do to achieve them," Webster-Brown said.
"I would like to think that our current coalition government would not be tempted to simply throw the baby out with the bathwater and start all over again. I think that would be hugely damaging for the progress we have made on improving our freshwater systems."