Clean water balancing act

Clean water is a hard balancing act, Fran Wilde, chair of Local Government New Zealand’s regional sector says.

The recent announcement on bottom lines for water quality has re-ignited the debate on the impact of farming on our rivers and lakes.

Farmers and industry are easy targets but it is too simple to blame them entirely for the state of our water. The quality of sewerage and stormwater infrastructure around the country is also significant, not only in rural areas but in urban areas, where some of our dirtiest waterways are located. .

Since 2011 when the National Policy Statement (NPS) on Freshwater was issued by the Government, regional and unitary councils have been charged with “maintaining and improving” water quality. Some of the more recently developed Regional Plans to do this have been very public battles – the Horizons Council’s One Plan is an example. 

So while the recent announcement is not a new concept, what has changed is that we now have “bottom lines” or minimum standards. Under the new regime, communities will discuss and agree on the values they place on water and what is needed to improve the quality of water bodies that are below these bottom lines – or that the communities feel should be higher than the minimum.

This is a collaborative approach giving local communities control, rather than having to accept impositions from central government as the Green Party proposes.

A few years ago the Land and Water Forum recommended this type of collaborative community process for this work. Farming representatives involved in the Forum also were very clear that if limits were to be imposed on their farming practices to improve water quality then the same had to apply to local authorities and water infrastructure. The new framework does both of these – the regional council in collaboration with the community is required to set limits for all water quality – what the standard should be and how it is to be achieved.

But improving water quality comes at a cost. There is a cost to farmers as practices are changed, stock rates lowered and investments made in new technology. The same applies to industry – and to communities which have to pay for upgrades to wastewater infrastructure and stormwater networks. Thus when communities decide to improve water quality and set this in their Regional Plan, getting there will cost them. In some smaller communities demographic changes will make this a challenge and aging populations, with many on fixed incomes, may question the expense involved in the water infrastructure upgrades. 

Many local councils have already invested heavily in upgrading sewerage treatment plants and it’s inevitable 
that others will have to follow. The question for our communities will be how to fund these upgrades, taking into account not only those demographic changes but widespread calls to hold rates increases to a minimum. . . 

We’d all like pristine water everywhere, but the cost of achieving and then maintaining that would be exorbitant.

Councils and the communities they serve know that clean waterways is a hard balancing act but they are in the best position to work out what is desirable, achievable and affordable.



34 Responses to Clean water balancing act

  1. Mr E says:

    The Green Parties Clean River plan says to me, the Green party does not trust Communities and Councils to improve water quality. The Green Party wants to intervene to a much greater level and control behaviours.

    Oddly the Greens are also amongst the biggest critics of commissioner control of ECAN. During this process the Government said – we don’t trust the community to do a good job, so we will control behaviours

    Humorous to now watch the Greens. Humorous.


  2. Clean rivers?
    National throws its hands in the air and says “we won’t do it!”
    The Greens say, “then we will”


  3. Mr E says:

    National says – Lets give the tools to communities
    Greens say – lets take those tools away.


  4. National says – let’s give those tools to the communities
    Greens say – Ecan.


  5. The proof, e, of the pudding is in the eating.
    What does National actually do?
    [deleted off topic]


  6. Gravedodger says:

    And of course that effort Guyton is sooo relevant to Clean water.

    Ecan with Eugenie Sage as a member and much green manipulation and totally ineffective input wasted 19 years in failing to implement a Water Plan that the Commissioners had up and running in their first year following appointment.

    How much damage was perpetrated around that little epic failure.

    I am concerned with water quality and spend time on waterways throughout much of the SI.
    One recurring problem has zero to do with farmers and heaps to do with scruffy parasitic backpackers who probably have majority support for green policy yet shit anywhere they think they can get away with it.
    Giardia is not pleasant.

    Another problem polutant is rock snot or Didymo and yet salmon and trout seem unaffected by this curse and again it is not down to


  7. Mr E says:

    “What does National actually do?”

    Perhaps come back to the debate once you have up skilled somewhat Robert.


  8. “One recurring problem has zero to do with farmers…”

    Good that you found one, Gravedodger!

    That’s farmers off the hook then.

    In any case, who’s blaming farmers for all of it (citation needed)?


  9. farmerbraun says:

    Good that someone brought up Giardia and Didymo.
    What about mallard ducks , and canada geese and the resultant high coliforms, not to mention Salmonella.

    I support the aspiration to have rivers fit for swimming, but some people are still going to get sick.

    Let’s get this nitrate problem sorted , and then we can look at phosphorus.
    And in the meantime , nil municipal sewage discharge to water is long overdue.


  10. farmerbraun says:

    “What does National actually do?”

    There is a rumour abroad that they have introduced the first national guidelines for water quality.
    Just what will prevent future parliaments from raising the guidelines to a higher standard of water quality is not clear at present.


  11. They have, but are those guidelines all they should be, farmerbraun?
    Many, many commentators say, no.


  12. farmerbraun says:

    ” are those guidelines all they should be, ”

    Almost certainly not.
    In the future they may be tightened , relaxed, broadened , narrowed, or modified in other ways that we cannot anticipate.
    However they represent the starting point for the clean-up of the waterways.
    When every water body in the country is in full compliance with the current legislation, if that ever occurs , that may be a time to talk about revision.


  13. Why aim low? Why revise later? It’s always harder to claw-back from a position lower than could have been achieved, “but they were allowed to do it!!!
    Short-sighted. Uninspiring. The Greens commitment is aspirational and inspirational and that’s what’s needed for our environment. Business as usual = death by a thousand cuts.


  14. farmerbraun says:

    “Why aim low? ”
    As I understand it , they haven’t. Not all water bodies are in compliance. If they had aimed low , there would not be much non-compliance. As it stands , some city councils have some major expenditure to do if they are to comply.


  15. Mr E says:

    Most people understand that there can be a trade off between the economy and water quality.

    I am not sure if Robert understands that at all. If he does – he seems to be saying – for the benefit of the environment lets significantly punish the economy. Actually to me it seems like – lets damn the economy. And he doesn’t seem to care one iota.


  16. You say “seems to be saying” a lot, Mr e and then spading-on great gallops of your own fearful insecurities (with a green tint).
    How about you try; “Robert said:” as a lead-in to your comments? That way you’ll be talking about something real not imagined, as is your usual practise.


  17. I’m in moderation 🙂
    Slippery slope, Ele.
    Slippery slope.


  18. farmerbraun says:

    I don’t think anyone can deny that the clean-up will come at a cost. Just like cleaning up Muldoon’s mess came at a cost.
    Sometimes guiltless parties pay up big -time. That is a consequence of belonging to society.


  19. Mr E says:

    If you don’t like my assessments Robert – deny them.

    Then again, when I’m right I’m right. Perhaps you agree?


  20. homepaddock says:

    Robert – I’m not sitting at the computer all day monitoring comments. It’s you on the slippery slope. If you play by the rules you won’t be moderated, if you don’t you will and if you’ll be banned.


  21. robertguyton says:

    My hair is clearly above my collar, Ele. I hope you noted the result of the case against that school.


  22. RBG says:

    “Sometimes guiltless parties pay up big -time”- yes farmerbraun, that’s exactly what our children and grandchildren will be doing if we don’t deal with water pollution and climate change.


  23. Mr E says:

    Isnt it good that water quality has been improving then. Well phosphate at least. Other pollutants are not changing- in the last 10 years. Whilst dairying has provided major boost to the economy, which our kids and grand kids benefit from.
    Great isn’t it?


  24. RBG says:

    Is this where you include rivers that are “stable” with those that are “improving” Mr E?


  25. Mr E says:

    What is more accurate to say –
    1, Water quality is declining
    2, Water quality is improving

    The answer is 2- obviously.


  26. RBG says:

    You did not answer the question Mr E. Rivers could be improving, stable or deteriorating. What figures are you using?


  27. Mr E says:

    Both the MFE and LAWA say the same RBG.

    Nitrogen – No significant change
    Phosphate – Significant improvement
    Ecoli – No significant change.

    Do you want the links?


  28. robertguyton says:

    Mr e shared the figures around lowland water quality (rivers, lagoons, estuaries and lakes).


  29. robertguyton says:

    RBG – the worrying trend is, any progress made is expected to be quickly lost through the inevitable intensification. Improve individual farms, then cram more into the landscape to make more money, and screw the whole environment up through lack of being able to see the big picture. Mr e needs you to bring him down to earth and back to reality. His “everything is beautiful” warbling is dangerously off-key and he’s tone-deaf to the sad song he’s singing.


  30. Mr E says:

    The fact show – Intensification over the last 10 years has not had a significant negative impact on water quality.

    If you don’t believe the facts you can trust Roberts rhetoric. Robert is a Green Party member – with all it’s failing political ambitions.

    It is unsurprising to me that Green Party members might act alarmist over any or every environmental debate.

    I am pleased that Robert has finally admitted this “progress made”.
    Kind of makes the Green Parties water policies look silly doesn’t it?


  31. “The fact show – Intensification over the last 10 years has not had a significant negative impact on water quality.”

    You might consider it insignificant, Mr e, but the New Zealand public most clearly does not.
    How many lowland rivers can be safely drunk-from, Mr e?
    An “insignificant” number?
    Probably right, that.


  32. Mr E says:

    What the facts show are – throughout NZ for Nitrate and Ecoli. There is not significant decline. But phosphate has improved.

    Wow, I say. Wow. The dairy industry has significantly grown our wealth – and during this time water quality has not significantly declined.

    Good on you Dairy industry. I’m impressed.

    I’m also pleased that the likes of the National party continues to support this growth – Where other parties like the Greens don’t.

    Oh dear me. Seems quite unpatriotic I think.


  33. farmerbraun says:

    “any progress made is expected to be quickly lost through the inevitable intensification. ”

    I doubt that anyone here can produce a shred of evidence of the inevitability of intensification. Indeed there is an increasing amount of literature suggesting that the opposite is preferable, and will be in the interests of farmers.


  34. farmerbraun says:

    RG:-” His “everything is beautiful” warbling is dangerously off-key and he’s tone-deaf to the sad song he’s singing.”

    Any unbiased reading of the thread reveals that Mr E has said nothing even remotely similar to that.


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