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A lack of cohesive, comprehensive vision for the country's land use, particularly from our two main parties, leaves drinking water sources and waterways at risk according to results of a survey by the Public Health Communication Centre (PHCC).

The second Briefing in our series - Where do the parties stand? Protecting water sources and drinking water quality - analyses the results of the PHCC survey of the five parties currently in parliament looking at a range of public health issues. This Briefing looks at how proactive parties will be at protecting our water, especially communities' drinking water sources.

Lead author Marnie Prickett says the inquiry into the 2016 Havelock North outbreak identified 800,000 New Zealanders are on water supplies that are “not demonstrably safe”. Furthermore, she says, 80% of New Zealanders identify the state of our water as their main environmental concern. Yet, political parties have very different understandings about how to protect it.

“To protect the quality of our water we have to take into account multiple factors including land use, central and regional governance, infrastructure, climate change, and regulation Too narrow a focus from the incoming Government will mean more risk for communities from water-borne disease and hazardous contaminants in water,” says Marnie Prickett.

The survey asked whether parties would implement regulations such as ‘sinking lid’ caps on the use of nitrogen fertiliser. This is in relation to the growing problem of nitrate contamination of drinking water from the intensification of farming including the more than 600% increase in the use of nitrogen fertiliser over recent decades. We also asked what other policies the parties would introduce to protect the sources of our drinking water.

“What is striking, particularly from the two main parties, is the lack of cohesive, comprehensive vision for moving to more sustainable, healthy land use,” says Marnie Prickett.

Primary risks to drinking water sources are agricultural pollution and the over extraction of water for irrigation. Cyclone Gabrielle demonstrated how poor land use coupled with climate change can impact water services during storms. National did not mention land use or farming practices at all. While Labour did, it appeared focused on incremental changes.

Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori identified land use and activities as pressures for water quality. In contrast, National discussed water services, avoiding comment on nitrogen fertiliser or land use. ACT focused on drinking water standards as the primary driver for quality drinking water.

No party mentioned climate change, which is projected to amplify all existing issues with water quality, drinking water provision, and the resilience of water infrastructure.


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