When we turn on the tap, we take it for granted that our water will be safe to drink. It wasn’t always this way, and the improvement of water quality across the world has been the major advance in health improvement over the past two centuries. Clean water has reduced sickness and disease, and improved life expectancy worldwide.

But if you live in Havelock North, you may be one of the 4,500 people who recently got sick from drinking contaminated water. For them, it was an awful experience. But the really disturbing thing is that this is part of a far wider problem. It is estimated that 18,000–34,000 people get sick each year across New Zealand from waterborne diseases. Our health is at risk.

We are known internationally as a clean green nation, and we benefit economically through attracting tourists, investors, and students, and by enhancing the value of our exports. Our reputation is our greatest economic asset, but it is at risk; our rivers are a disgrace. It has become so bad that according to the Ministry of the Environment, nearly two-thirds of New Zealand’s monitored river swimming spots were unsafe for swimming last summer. Some of our waterways suffer from toxic algal blooms, many are choking on sediment and faecal contamination, and still, others are drying up from over-use. The pollution is killing the fish and plant life, making our rivers lifeless and dangerous for swimming.

There is a danger that this level of pollution gets into our drinking water, either directly or through contamination of our groundwater, the precious reservoirs of underground water that is essential for our future. It is not only Havelock North that is at risk but also many towns and rural communities across New Zealand.

This government has allowed our rivers to be polluted by business, development and intensive farming, and set standards so low that you can only boat or wade in rivers. The allowable nitrate levels are higher than those in the polluted Yangtse River in China. When I was young, we used to be able to swim in rivers, without fear of getting sick. This essential quality of being a New Zealander is being denied to our children.

The Green Party wants to clean up and restore life to our forest streams, our mighty rivers, our lakes and our estuaries. We will make our rivers habitable for nature, swimmable for us all and drinkable without getting sick. This means setting higher standards, helping farmers to fence off rivers and plant along the banks, getting tough on polluters, setting a price on the use of water for irrigation and commercial use, and protecting our wild rivers.

This is another of our “good Green policies”—good for the environment, good for our quality of life, and good for the economy. There are many others being proposed by the Green Party. Please visit our website to find out more www.greens.org.nz.