Taking Rivers to the Forthcoming Local Body Elections

by Ken Sims, spokesman NZ Federation Freshwater Anglers

Do you have an issue with your rivers and lakes? Are they polluted, over-extracted, diverted, or over-utilised by industry? Are you sick of having their beds clogged up, stifling insect life, by sediment running off forestry clear felling, or washing off slips from hill country devoid of trees and riparian strips? Do you still see cattle with uncontrolled access to waterways, despite knowing the damage that does? Do you despair at finding that your favourite rivers only have a fraction of the flows that they once had, or that they dry up completely? Perhaps you are fuming at discovering that willows and gravel are being ripped out of your favourite fishing spots, or that whole sections of their beds are being cross-bladed or channelled unnaturally? Does the fact that the local freezing works, milk factory, or industrial area continue to pour their waste into our waterways with impunity, make you mad? How about town and city sewage works and stormwater doing that as well, again with seeming impunity?

The bad news is that most of those activities are controlled by regional government. The good news is that every once in a while, you get the opportunity to do something about it – and this is one of those times.

Local body elections are coming up, and you can, and should participate. There are a number of ways you can do that.  Firstly, and most importantly, you can make sure you vote. But you can go further.

Secondly, you can stand as a candidate in either your regional or town/city council. Don’t think that you couldn’t do it; the existing ones are just ordinary people. In fact, if their current decisions are anything to go by, any change would have to be an improvement. So if the fact that the majority of your regional councillors recently voted against supporting swimmable rivers sticks in your throat, stand up and give them a run for their money.

Thirdly, hold those people already on local body councils accountable. Find out what their positions are on matters that affect our waterways. More importantly, find out how they voted on the decisions that have already directly affected them. The currently degraded state of our waterways is the single biggest environmental issue that the public want addressed. Have the existing councillors supported or opposed projects that will help fix this, or have they supported projects that will worsen it? Ask them direct questions, and if they won’t answer them, ask them through letters to the editor and other media. Publish the results so that other club members and anglers will know as well.

Fourthly, make those people who are standing accountable in the same way. Ask the same questions of them too.  Publish and disseminate those results as well. There is an unfortunate tendency in politics these days, or candidates to say one thing prior to being elected, and doing something completely different after they get elected. But at least you can hold the promises and positions they made up as a mirror if they do.

So if you care about the perilous state of our waterways and freshwater fisheries, as most New Zealanders do, get involved. These local body elections are your chance to make yourselves heard, and to make a difference. Let’s demand that waterways and fisheries are an issue that is addressed, not swept back under the carpet. And you can be part of that difference.