The conversation about water

Environment Southland will soon embark on community conversations about how Southlanders value their water quality.

Nationally-led requirements around the swimmability of New Zealand's waterways mean Environment Southland will soon be talking to the community on how to get there.

Environment Southland director of policy, planning and regulatory services Vin Smith said community conversations would begin shortly, and he encouraged all those with an interest in the targets to get involved.

"It's important for us to know where and when people are swimming in our rivers and lakes. This helps us understand the work that needs to be undertaken to ensure swimmers can enjoy our environment and stay healthy. That's what setting these targets is all about."

Under the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM), regional councils like Environment Southland are required to identify and develop targets for increasing the number of rivers and lakes that are suitable for swimming. 

In Southland's case, this will mean looking at E. coli and cyanobacteria levels.

The regional council has already adopted draft targets that indicated Southland would be able to improve the current state from 62% of rivers being swimmable to 65.7% of them being swimmable by 2030.

Currently 98% of Southland lakes are considered swimmable and that target would remain for 2030.

The national goal is for 80% of lakes and rivers to be swimmable by 2030 and 90% by 2040.

Southland's final targets will be notified before the end of the year.

However Environment Southland's "People, Water, and Land" programme intends to expand the conversation beyond the upcoming swimmability targets.

Mr Smith said it was about asking the community for its values and what outcomes it wanted to see when it came to Southland's water quality overall.

"In simple terms, it's about, 'Do we want to be able to swim in rivers? Do we want to be able to go out and catch the fish and eat the fish that's in those rivers? Do we want to be able to collect the shellfish and to eat the kai that comes from our estuary systems?'."

Once those desired community outcomes were determined, Environment Southland would then determine how to achieve them through good practice and considering what further regulations were required. 

Regardless of where one lived, he said everyone was involved in the conversation about Southland's water.

"Water quality itself is quite nebulous, but the things that we do in the water is near and dear to our hearts as New Zealanders. 

"It's about sustaining what we've got and ensuring that those ecosystems are healthy and will allow us to do all these things that we've taken for granted in the future."


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