Judge Craig Thompson of the Environment Court handed down a landmark decision on Tuesday … one that will reverberate throughout New Zealand as a firm ruling that NZ’s freshwater needs far more serious protection.

“Too hard” is no longer good enough.

“Voluntary” is no longer good enough.

“Grandfathering” current practices and practitioners is no longer good enough.

Judge Thompson issued a decision that essentially endorsed all of the objectives and methods environmentalists have argued for to protect the nation’s waterways.

His ruling applies specifically to the so-called ‘One Plan’ promulgated by the Horizons Regional Council in Manawatu-Wanganui, but it establishes crucial case law that all regional councils will need to take into account.

And not a moment too soon, given that the HB Regional Council is about to re-write Hawke’s Bay’s water management rules, starting with the Tukituki catchment.

You can bet your bottom dollar that the midnight oil will be burning at the HBRC for more than a few nights, as staff tries to figure out the implications of this decision for the new regime they’ve just this week floated to the public in their “Tukituki Choices” public consultation document.

Local environmentalists believe our Regional Council is planning to move far too timidly in its new regime in terms of demanding cleaner practices by farmers. It appears that Judge Thompson would have none of that. So perhaps the HB Regional Council will give a fresh listen to environmental concerns.

Below is the media release issued by Fish & Game NZ, an appellant to the Environment Court case.

As they say, “a win for all New Zealand”.

You can learn more about the Tukituki issues at the upcoming water forum EIT and BayBuzz are hosting on 18 September, 5:30-7:30pm at EIT … Managing the Tukituki: Can Farmers and Environmentalists Both Win? Details to follow.

Tom Belford

One Plan ruling a win for all NZ

Fish & Game NZ says an Environment Court ruling on the Manawatu-Wanganui region’s One Plan sets a precedent for resource management that will be far reaching.

Declining water quality and historically poor management of this most precious natural resource in New Zealand has become one of the defining environmental issues of our time.

Intensification of land use is the greatest threat to water quality and has been the least likely to be addressed by regional councils.

The ruling was yesterday handed down on areas of the Horizons Regional Council’s regional policy, the One Plan, under appeal from groups such as Fish & Game, the Department of Conservation, Federated Farmers, Fonterra, the energy sector and private parties.

“The Environment Court has provided an unequivocal judgement on a significant environmental matter,” says Wellington Fish & Game manager Phil Teal.

“For too long there has been a flagrant disregard for how land use impacts on water quality, with unsustainable land development and agricultural intensification exacting a huge toll on our most precious resource.

“This decision represents a seismic shift in natural resource and freshwater management in New Zealand. While recognising the importance of the primary industry, it also mandates the necessity of concrete action through a rules-based planning approach to protect and improve the environment and particularly our freshwater resource, which is so crucial to our national identity and ‘100% Pure, clean green’ brand.

“It’s a good decision for all New Zealand creating much better balance which has been long overdue – a win-win, putting New Zealand agriculture on an environmentally sustainable footing and setting in train a requirement to clean up its tarnished image.”

As the first regional plan to tackle nutrient management on a catchment basis, formation of the One Plan – and the subsequent appeal – has been closely watched around the country as an opportunity to develop a blueprint for the rest of New Zealand.

Among other key rulings, the decision means irrigated sheep and beef farming, as well as the horticulture sector, will be classed as intensive land use, and therefore will be brought into a nutrient and sediment management regime to reduce losses to waterways.

The Environment Court found the arguments put forward by Fonterra, Federated Farmers and Horticulture New Zealand on the One Plan were deficient, with the Court ruling that those parties did not represent “sustainable management”.

In summing up the Court stated: “We have little sympathy for the line of argument that we should defer taking decisive action in the field of improving water quality… to fail to take available and appropriate steps within the terms of the legislation just cited would be inexcusable.”

Mr Teal says the ruling now provides certainty for all parties – “It’s good for the environment and good for industry and development because we all know where we’re heading.”

Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson says: “The judgment is a major step towards mandatory environmentally sustainable best on-farm practice, which can only be good for our agriculture sector in the international market.

“New Zealanders want their waterways restored to being swimmable, fishable and safe for food gathering – this decision delivers on that.”

Fish & Game appealed the One Plan to ensure there were adequate provisions for dealing with water quality issues and provided evidence to complement New Zealand’s best technical experts on these issues.

Key points:

  • Developed by New Zealand’s leading experts across sustainable land use, agriculture, freshwater ecology, biodiversity, landscape, planning and law, the One Plan sets a blueprint for integrated catchment management to protect freshwater and its values in New Zealand.
  • Water quality and quantity numerical limits have been set by leading independent experts with robust scrutiny so they weren’t influenced by advocacy of self-interest or political influence groups.
  • Endorsement that agricultural land use is a significant contributor to the degraded state of the region’s freshwater ecosystems and as such should be regulated to measurable performance standards, best management practices and leaching targets.
  • Leaching targets should not be based on ‘grand-parenting’ but set on the natural capital of land and that these leaching targets should reduce over time, ramping down leaching allowances.
  • The court ruled that in regards to farming there cannot be a reliance on voluntary approaches alone. Even if those programs exist such as the clean streams accord, they need the reinforcement of a regulatory regime to set measureable standards and to enforce compliance with them. Permitted activity is not appropriate.

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1 Comment

  1. This is certainly a marvellous and ground-breaking decision. Whether or not it delivers full sustainability depends on how we define that fine phrase. But it will certainly result in less nutrient run-off, over time, than would have occurred without the rules for the Manawatu catchment that are set out in the Regional Council one-plan. As the chairperson of the Hawke's Bay Regional Council sub-committee that developed the first draft water management plan for our own region, back in 1995, I'm delighted to see a neighbouring region finally take the steps we couldn't take 17 years ago because our people weren't yet ready for it.

    There is a second relevant point you unsurprisingly chose not to mention. This far-sighted management Manawatu plan didn't require a combined Manawatu council with local communities pitch-forked together by draconian legislation. All it required was a regional council, no better resourced than ours, committed to doing what the RMA has provided for since 1989. And a judge, no better than our judges, with the balls to make a ruling.

    There is now every reason to demand our own region council implements a similar plan for the Tukituki catchment. And if they won't deliver, vote them out! Easier to do that than vote out an amalgamated Hawke's Bay council with a legislated monopoly.

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