The Government has set a national target of making 90% of New Zealand's large rivers and lakes swimmable by 2040, with an interim target of 80% swimmable by 2030.
Regional councils are required to develop regional targets to contribute to the national target. They must make draft regional targets available to the public by March 2018, and make their final regional targets public by the end of 2018.
Each regional council has worked with their communities to decide which rivers and lakes will be improved, when, and by how much, in order to contribute to the national target. Each council will be looking at the actions needed to achieve the targets.
Under the Ministry for the Environment's national targets released in 2017, Southland's rivers were deemed 60.2% swimmable and 98% for our lakes.
This assessment used modelling to grade rivers and lakes into different categories according to how often the levels of bacteria are at such levels that the rivers or lakes are suitable for swimming. The purpose of modelling this information was to help regional councils assess how much improvement was needed in order to meet the government's national targets of 80% of lakes and rivers swimmable by 2030 and 90% by 2040.
Using the Ministry for the Environment modelling, Southland's rivers will see a 5.5% improvement by 2030, taking our target to 67.5%. The modelling takes into account the current work being undertaken across Southland to improve E. coli levels, combined with the actions required in the proposed Southland Water and Land Plan. For more information see Targets for swimmable lakes and rivers in Southland
Announcing the target is a significant step in recognising where we are at, and where we need to go in improving water quality across the region. While the target seems low, it is a measure of the work being undertaken by our communities, and the work we have planned to help achieve the government's targets. Southlanders will continue to have the opportunity to discuss and contribute to more aspirational targets to make Southland's rivers more swimmable through the People, Water and Land programme.
Frequently asked questions:
What is E. coli and where does it come from? How can it affect me?
Escherichia coli is an indicator of microbial pathogens associated with faecal contamination of water bodies. Microbial pathogens are microbes such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa that can cause illness. Microbial pathogens in the water can enter the body when water is swallowed, or through the ears, nasal passages, mucous membranes or cuts in the skin.
They can cause stomach upsets like gastrointestinal illness, infections, breathing issues, or more harmful diseases like hepatitis A. Microbial pathogens in fresh water primarily come from faecal contamination.
Faecal contamination from animals can occur through runoff from farms during rainfall events, or if animals have direct access to waterways. Human faecal contamination of waterways can occur if poorly treated sewage or septic tank systems are discharged (directly or indirectly) to water, or during heavy rain when sewerage systems overflow into stormwater systems.
Campylobacter (a type of bacteria that can cause gastrointestinal illness) and noroviruses (a group of viruses that can cause gastrointestinal illness) are the pathogens most likely to cause people to become sick from swimming.
How did you get 60.2% swimmable?
All regional councils have worked together to use the best information available to identify:
the improvements that will be made to water quality in rivers and lakes in the Southland region under programmes that are planned or underway;
when the anticipated water quality improvements will be achieved;
the likely costs of all interventions, and where these costs will fall.
A report on these theoretical improvements and costs, presented region by region, is available on the Ministry for the Environment's website mfe.govt.nz. The assumptions and limitations of the modelling approaches taken are described in the report.
What actions will need to happen to get to 65.7% swimmable?
The first step for Southland will be to implement the proposed Southland Water and Land Plan from 4 April 2018. This will improve land and water management in the region and contribute to 'holding the line' on water quality (preventing further worsening).
The next steps will come through Council's People, Water and Land programme. This programme will take a people-focused approach to integrating action on the ground with regulation (such as setting limits for contaminants in waterways).
Why did the Government release these targets?
The Ministry for the Environment modelled this information for each regional council and released these targets to help regional councils assess how much improvement was needed in order to meet the government's national target of 90% of lakes and rivers swimmable by 2040.
How does Environment Southland assess suitability of rivers and lakes for swimming and how is this different from "swimmability"?
Environment Southland assesses suitability of rivers and lakes for swimming using both surveillance monitoring and grading. We use 2003 Ministry for the Environment guidelines to monitor water quality (for E.coli) weekly at popular swimming sites during the summer months. This is referred to as surveillance monitoring.
State of the Environment (SOE) monitoring is also carried out monthly to assess E.coli levels. We combine this info together with historical E.coli levels and other risks (sources in the area which might raise bacteria levels) to give an overall Suitability for Recreation Grading (SFRG). The sites where our surveillance and SOE monitoring take place have been identified as popular places for recreational water use.
"Swimmability" is also a form of grading, however it differs from the SFRG grading as it uses the Ministry for the Environment's modelled data. While this includes Environment Southland's surveillance and SOE monitoring data, it incorporates additional data and is a model of swimmability at all of Southland's rivers, regardless of whether these are locations where swimming takes place.
What's the difference between grading and surveillance?
Grading assesses the general suitability of a site for swimming on a long-term basis, while surveillance assesses the suitability of a site for swimming in the short-term (i.e. is it ok to swim today?). A recreational site may receive an 'A' grade (excellent long term quality) but may not be suitable for swimming during specific circumstances, such as unusual contamination.