Freshwater pollution big concern for Northlanders

20 Mar 2023, 1:30 PM

Less pollution and better conditions for aquatic plants and animals is what people most want to see improved for freshwater across Te Taitokerau, according to survey results released ahead of this week‘s World Water Day Wednesday, 22 March by Northland Regional Council.

The online survey asked people to identify freshwater places that were important to them (such as rivers and lakes) by dropping a pin on a map and then identifying what the key values and impacts were on the site.

Northland Regional Council Chair Tui Shortland said the results gave the regional council more useful insight to use as it prepared a new draft Freshwater Plan, set for release and consultation in September.

“World Water Day seeks to highlight the importance of clean freshwater so is the perfect time for us to talk again about the work we’re doing to improve the health of Northland’s freshwater,” Chair Shortland said.

“The data we have tells us many of our freshwater ecosystems are in a poor state and the message is simple – it’s going to take time and large-scale change to how we currently do many things to realise the improvements in freshwater we need to achieve.”

Chair Shortland said councils across the country had been set a challenge by government to improve the health of freshwater systems and that the draft Freshwater Plan will be the new ‘rule book’ for how they must be treated in the future.

“The draft Freshwater Plan will introduce a new set of targets, policies and rules for improving freshwater health,” Chair Shortland said.

The regional council survey showed that preserving biodiversity and natural beauty were the most common values people associated with freshwater sites, followed by cultural significance and recreation.

Pollution (26%), poor water clarity caused by sediment (22%) and pollution caused by animals (13%) were recorded as having the greatest impacts at sites across the survey.

Chair Shortland said there is a lot of work to do, with regional council data showing 94% of Northland’s rivers are graded as poor or very poor on a national scale for E. coli – a measure of faecal contamination from humans or animals.

Poor conditions to support life of freshwater insects were found in 55% of rivers and streams and some Northland lakes have elevated levels of nutrients which negatively affects the health of native plants and animals. The draft Freshwater Plan is an opportunity to respond to those statistics and start restoring and protecting water quality and freshwater ecosystems.