The New Zealand government has announced a major plan to clean up the entire country’s freshwater sources, according to The Guardian. Years of pollution have made most of the lakes and rivers unswimmable.

Environment Minister David Parker announced the government’s action plan, saying:
“Our rivers, lakes and wetlands are under serious threat after years of neglect. We can’t continue to go on like we are. If we don’t fix things now they only get worse and will be more expensive to fix.”

Two-thirds of rivers are unswimmable due to pollution

According to the ministry, nearly two-thirds of all rivers are unswimmable and three-quarters of New Zealand’s native freshwater fish species are threatened with extinction. The citizens of New Zealand have been encouraged to check their local council websites for public health warnings before heading out for a day on the water. Due to pollution, contaminated drinking water is not uncommon. In 2016, nearly 5,000 people fell ill and four died after sheep faeces contaminated the Havelock North’s water supply 430km southeast of Auckland.

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With new plans to clean up the waterways, the government wants to “achieve a noticeable improvement in five years and restore our waterways within a generation”. There will be a control on land intensification until councils around the country have freshwater protection plans in place by 2025. Water quality standard will be raised for swimming spots. Farmers will also be required to cease “risky farm practices” that pollute waterways, such as letting cows stray into waterways.

Many changes will be implemented to reduce pollution

Other changes such as new irrigation or conversion to dairying will only happen from mid next year if there is enough evidence that proves the practices will not increase pollution. The government has set aside NZ$229m (US$145m) to help farmers transition to eco-friendly environment practices. The farming community, however, is against these measures as they believe the Labour Coalition government has thrown the sector “under a tractor”.

A boom in New Zealand’s dairy industry has coincided with declining water quality. Major water pollutants include cow effluent and fertiliser run-off. Deforestation and clearing of native wetlands have also significantly contributed to the degradation of water quality.

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