Swimming towards 2040

Topics covered in this article: RMA & Local Government

The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 (Freshwater NPS) has been amended this month to introduce a National Target for water quality improvement. This aims to make 90% of New Zealand’s rivers and lakes ‘swimmable’ by 2040, with an interim target of 80% by 2030. 

Inclusion of the National Target in the NPS and associated policies means Regional Councils have to work towards the targets. ‘Swimmable’ means that the water quality will be good enough for swimming in and less likely to make swimmers and others immersed in water unwell. (Swimmers should still remember that it is not a good idea to swim directly after high rainfall events or when flows are very high even once targets are achieved as these are higher risk events where water quality is likely to be lower).   

The targets apply to many of our rivers, and to lakes with a perimeter of more than 1.5km. Regional Councils will be setting their draft regional targets by March 2018 (available to the public by 31 March 2018) with final regional targets available to the public by 31 December 2018. There will also be changes to regional plans that will assist in improving the water quality of these specified rivers and lakes to make them suitable for swimming more often. 

Every five years or less there will be a new report on the progress made towards achieving the regional targets and an action plan developed on what will be done to help improve progress. We can expect that there will be public processes and discussions around what is important and that there will be opportunities to help identify the places where improvements to water quality will make swimming safer for all in the future.  

There will also be more monitoring of water quality in spots where and when people swim - Councils will check E.coli bacteria levels at these sites weekly, and increase these checks if the count levels of E.coli bacteria reach 260 per 100ml because of the higher risk of infection from Campylobacter.

The Ministry for the Environment states: “If a single sample is greater than 540 E. coli per 100ml, Councils must take all reasonable steps to notify the public and keep them informed, that the site is unsuitable for recreation.”

You can check how ‘swimmable’ your favourite swimming spot is, here.