Environment Minister Amy Adams and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy have released proposals for improving freshwater management, including national water standards.
On-going and reliable supply of healthy water is one of the most important environmental and economic issues facing New Zealand today,” Ms Adams says.
“It is critical that we protect and improve the water quality that we all care so much about.”
“This is an issue that affects us all. We need to work together to create a better way of managing what is New Zealand’s most important natural resource,” Mr Guy says.
In 2011, the Government required regions to maintain or improve the water quality in their lakes, rivers, wetlands and aquifers.
In March a document was released outlining the Government’s proposed plan of action for improving water quality and the way freshwater is managed.
In August, the Government announced its intention to create a collaborative planning option for the development of a freshwater plan within a community.
Today, the Government is releasing a document to seek the public’s feedback on more detailed proposals for amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.
The discussion document seeks feedback on the Government’s proposals for:
- a national framework to support communities setting freshwater objectives
- explicit recognition of tangata whenua values for freshwater
- ecosystem and human health as compulsory values in regional plans
- bottom lines for ecosystem and human health that apply everywhere, and
restricted grounds for exceptions to bottom lines; and
- requiring councils to account for all water takes and contaminant discharges
More than 60 freshwater scientists from public, private and academic sectors across New Zealand have come up with numeric values proposed for national bottom lines for freshwater.
Ministers have not been involved in the scientific detail of the framework.
The numbers have also been tested with a reference group of water users to make sure they are practical. Further water quality attributes and numbers will be added over time.
The framework will be underpinned by good information that supports regional decision-making, including the environmental, social and economic impacts of any proposed objectives and limits.
“As a minimum, councils still have to maintain or improve water quality, but we are proposing a safety net in national bottom lines for ecosystem and human health,” Ms Adams says.
“These are to safeguard aquatic life in our water bodies, and ensure we can enjoy our water for activities like boating and wading.”
“We expect people to debate these bottom lines – that’s the nature of science – but the freshwater scientists’ numbers we are releasing today also reflect the important role of value judgements in choosing how we use our fresh water,” Mr Guy says.
“If we can get agreement now, there will be less arguing and litigation over regional plans and resource consent applications. It will give people more certainty about what is allowed and what is not, and all this will save time and money.”
The discussion document, the draft amended National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and supporting documents and studies are available here.
Public meetings and hui will be held around the country this month and next. Dates and venues will be posted on the Ministry for the Environment’s website.
Amy Adams’ speech is here.
Farmers are welcoming the proposals.
“What is being proposed directly comes out of the recommendations of the Land & Water Forum and represent a significant change in how communities will plan for water into the future,” says Ian Mackenzie, Federated Farmers Environment spokesperson.
“This is a collaborative response to what has been a collaborative process.
“It is a framework which provides an accounting system for measuring water quantity and quality. This reduces much of the subjective emotion that has typified the discussion and sets bottom lines for water quality.
“This also is about giving communities the power to set their own aspirations for water. For the first time this will be scientifically, culturally and economically informed. It won’t be easy and will need some sacrifice from agriculture and urban communities alike.
“As Minister Adams noted at the launch, some of our most polluted waterways are in our towns and cities. It is why every New Zealander has a responsibility to play their part.
“Just like some farmers may face greater restrictions, some cities and their ratepayers may face wastewater upgrades costing hundreds of millions of dollars. The thing about the proposed amendments is that it introduces the concept of time; many issues may have taken decades to build and may take decades to resolve.
“I can confidently say New Zealand’s primary industries are up for this challenge.
“It is a challenge that rightly starts by giving communities the full facts. This is helped by input provided by 60 of New Zealand’s foremost freshwater scientists. For the first time we can build up a picture for what the impacts are and where they are coming from.
“It will also be helped by giving communities an idea as to what the costs of water options being considered are. As long as the community goes into decisions with its eyes open, as farmers, we cannot really complain.
“Many of the issues we face are long-term and the solutions will equally need an intergenerational approach. That makes it important to get the foundations right.
“While the framework is not complete and needs details to flesh it out, it and the consultation now underway, are important steps towards a more open and honest discussion about water,” Mr Mackenzie concluded.
IrrigationNZ says the integration of socio-economic and environmental objectives is the only way New Zealand will achieve long-term sustainability.
“It’s good to see the recommendations of the Land and Water Forum being put into action and IrrigationNZ applauds the scientists and planners behind the framework. It’s a sensible, well-informed first iteration and we look forward to its further development,” says IrrigationNZ CEO Andrew Curtis.
Mr Curtis says communities will now be able to come together and make informed decisions around the values of local waterways. “The framework delivers a more consistent approach to the setting of freshwater objectives and limits throughout New Zealand. IrrigationNZ is particularly excited by the breadth of community values that have been captured. Long term sustainability requires the marrying of socio economic and environmental aspirations and the framework achieves that.”
Another highlight for IrrigationNZ is recognition within the framework that communities need flexibility as they work towards meeting freshwater objectives.
“This is important as there are many factors impacting on water quality and a range of management approaches that can be taken as a result. While much of New Zealand’s freshwater resource is in good shape, there are also hotspots that urgently require attention. For IrrigationNZ, our contribution is working out how we better use water for irrigation and the framework reinforces that with its focus on measurement. Irrigators understand the importance of monitoring and measurement as our industry is founded on it. Our work programme is now based on improving water use efficiency and minimising nutrient losses to groundwater and waterways which will go a long way to delivering improved freshwater outcomes.”
The one jarring note for IrrigationNZ is the continuing debate around what should be included as attributes in the national bottom lines.
“In reality it’s difficult to set national bottom lines for many attributes due to the diversity and complexity of our landscape and waterbodies. Some freshwater attributes, particularly biotic-based indicators that are derived from multiple parameters, are better set at the catchment level where scenario specific analysis can be undertaken.”
Forest and Bird says the proposals are a good first step towards cleaner rivers.
. . . “Currently, regional councils decide their own water quality values. Inevitably, these have been disputed by different sectors all the way to the Environment Court,” says Forest & Bird Advocacy Manager Kevin Hackwell.
“It makes real sense to get consistency and agreement, all at once at a national level, and to have nationally consistent bottom lines.
“While the National Objectives Framework is a good start, as proposed, it would benefit from some more flesh on its bones,” Kevin Hackwell says.
“An obvious omission is that there is no objective that directly relates to the health of freshwater insects, and we hope that they can be included in the national framework that is implemented. Insects provide a direct measurement of how healthy a lake or river is,”
Kevin Hackwell says.
“Where there are still gaps in the regional science – which mean we can’t yet agree on a national set of numbers for particular water quality values – we should still be able to agree on some tight wording on what standards we want to see achieved.
“Tight ’descriptive’ objectives would provide crucial guidance for regional councils to work to, while the figures are worked out,” Kevin Hackwell says.
The Environmental Defence Society also says the proposals are a good first step.
“This is the critically important keystone to the entire freshwater reform process,” said EDS Chairman Gary Taylor.
“When EDS initiated the Land and Water Forum process in 2008, we had no idea it would take so long to get to this important stage. We finally have a draft of the much-needed national guidance for freshwater management in New Zealand.
“The overall NOF framework appears to be consistent with the recommendations of the Land and Water Forum. That much is welcome.
“However the actual standards and bottom-lines proposed are incomplete and those that are there will need strengthening.
“In particular, we are aware the Science Panels and the Reference Group recommended that macroinvertebrates (small living critters in freshwater systems) should be included – but they haven’t been. We think this can and should be fixed in the final version.
“Overall, some of the other bottom-line standards appear weaker than expected and in many cases are considerably lower than current water quality. We will need to take scientific advice on what adjustments are required. We have to have standards that ensure that no further deterioration in freshwater quality occurs and that we are on an overall improvement pathway especially in lowland streams and rivers.
“Overall, New Zealand’s freshwater should be swimmable and fishable as a minimum.
“The government is running a series of workshops and consultation feedback has been sought with a closing date in February.
“On this occasion the government is generally on the right pathway which will be welcomed by my colleagues on the Land and Water Forum as being in accord with the consensus position we arrived at. EDS stands by that consensus,” Mr Taylor concluded.
Getting consensus on the freshwater strategy is far better than imposing something which will result in on-going wrangles and litigation.
Consensus does however, often require compromise.
All parties involved have a strong desire to ensure we have good freshwater standards that result in clean water. If they keep that in mind they ought to be able to build on what they have in common and work around their differences.