I remember when I was ‘this tall’, playing in the Paekākāriki stream, having the time of my life. Now, walking past this waterway brings back such amazing memories, but it's tragic that I can’t create any new ones to pass on through the generations.
Sophie Handford from Kāpiti College Eco action group recently spoke about the state of her local stream at a Parliamentary Environment select committee hearing on the Choose Clean Water petition. As a year 11 student, it wasn’t that many years ago that Sophie was ‘this tall’. The Eco Action group were invited to speak at the hearing, to have some young voices explain why it’s important to them that freshwater is kept clean and safe. It is poignant that in their short lifetime they are witnessing the water playgrounds of their childhood becoming no-go areas.
Paekākāriki’s Wainui Stream is one of many once-idyllic waterways now contaminated with e.coli, joining 62 percent of all New Zealand rivers (by length) that fail to meet safe swimming standards.
The Choose Clean Water group is drawing attention to the degradation of rivers and lakes and advocating for strong laws to reverse this trend. In March a 12,000-strong petition was presented to Parliament, calling on the Government to commit to higher freshwater standards. Currently, the Government has a bottom line for freshwater bodies to be ‘wadeable’, but the petition asks this to be raised to ‘swimmable’. The ‘wadeable’ standard has an E.coli count of 1000/100ml, which is almost four times higher than the safe standard for swimming (i.e. a person being able to safely immerse their head). While government’s current position is that a swimming standard is considered ‘not practical’ as the restoration costs would be too great, the Clean Water Campaign argues that protecting waterways (particularly from the effects of diffuse pollution) is vastly cheaper than cleaning up those effects once they occur.
Having seen first-hand dramatic declines in quality of local waterways, Eco Action group members say it is an issue that really matters, especially for youth. “I am concerned that when I grow up, I won’t be able to see kids enjoying fresh water swims like I had the chance to”, says Sophie. The group jumped at the opportunity to speak at the hearing, wanting to do their part in influencing positive change. “It was amazing being able to actually speak in Parliament on something I’m passionate about,” said fellow group member Pippa McCormack Wolf.
Nicola Easthope, the Eco Action Group coordinator, said the whole experience gave the students a deeper understanding of the petition process at a high level. “I am very proud of the girls for representing the concerns of young people at a parliamentary level. They impressed the adults at the hearing for their articulate and confident delivery, and clear vision, and they inspire faith that the future will be in great hands!”
Students presenting at the Parliamentary Environment select committee hearing