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Casting out . . . A fisherman tries his luck in the Ashley River. PHOTO: FISH & GAME.

By RACHEL MACDONALD

On top of this year’s seasonal bloom of blue-green algae in the Ashley River comes the discovery in the waterway of a rare antibiotic-resistant E. coli, and another dangerous strain of the bacteria called Shiga toxin-producing E. coli (STEC).

The latter two were traced following independent testing conducted for Fish & Game of the river water above and below large dairy farms on the Ashley.

The tests were carried out by Massey University’s Institute of Agriculture and Environment. Scientists found two common strains of E. coli, which come only from ruminants such as cows.

Fish & Game was sufficiently concerned that it ordered a second round of testing to confirm the results, chief executive Martin Taylor says.

STEC, which was almost unheard of in New Zealand 25 years ago, is particularly easy to take in when swimming and has led to 750 cases of infection being identified in the last year.

About a quarter of those were hospitalised, and 10 percent of those ended up with haemolytic uraemic syndrome, which damages kidneys, particularly in children.

The testing was carried out before Fish & Game’s second annual Colmar Brunton opinion poll of New Zealanders which showed pollution of lakes and rivers is now top of people’s list of concerns, ahead of living costs and the state of the health system.

In all, 82 percent of those questioned said they were extremely or very concerned about the issue.

“Kiwis are extremely worried that they are losing their ability to swim, fish and gather food from their rivers, lakes and streams,” Mr Taylor says.

“People see those activities as their birthright, but over the last 20 years, that right has been lost because the level of pollution in waterways has increased as farming intensifies.

“While many farmers do understand the need for action and are making the necessary changes to how they use their land, there are still significant numbers who are refusing to follow their example. These laggards are letting down the responsible farmers, undermining farming’s reputation and exhausting the public’s patience.”

In his opinion, regional and district councils have to toughen the rules, enforce them, and stop making excuses. He also says the Government has a mandate to introduce tougher rules as part of its National Policy Statement for Freshwater, which should be released for public consultation this year.

ECan has also said it is committed to working with other organisations, including Fish and Game, to protect and improve water quality.

It says its weekly recreational water quality monitoring, which includes sites on the Ashley, show the river is largely safe for swimming. People can check the lawa.org.nz website, which is updated daily, to see where they can and should not go for a dip.