I just read through the National Party’s environment policy statement (download PDF here).

It re-states a message already clearly delivered back in September by Environment Minister Smith and Ag Minister Carter, when they formally charged the National Land and Water Forum to advise on the next phases of central government intervention in freshwater quality and allocation decisions (as reported here by BayBuzz — Expect more national direction on water policy).

Here’s what they said at the time:

“Effective limits for water quantity and especially quality are not being adequately set and managed to …”

“The incentives to delay setting limits are strong, particularly in relation to limits on water quality. Setting effective limits that reflect community and iwi values is both technically and politically difficult. It takes time and resources, and involves winners and losers. Existing governance structures, information, guidance and support are not sufficient to facilitate well-informed and timely decision making on limits. However, effective limits are required to deliver on New Zealanders’ values and expectations for water and to provide investment certainty, especially for long term infrastructure. If action on freshwater management is not taken now, existing problems will become increasingly difficult and expensive to address, and new problems will emerge …”

In other words, regional councils have screwed up our nation’s freshwater … and that cannot be allowed to continue. The Ministers’ workplan even calls for “step-in provisions, and criteria for triggering them, to allow Ministers to intervene where limit-setting processes stall.”

National’s campaign policy statement echoes these sentiments:

“The National-led Government has asked the Land & Water Forum to report back to Government by May 2012 on methods, tools, and governance arrangements for setting limits for water quality and quantity.”

“Measurement of water quality around New Zealand is inconsistent. It requires central government guidance to make sure benchmarks are being met. We will improve these tools and systems to give a clearer picture and help inform Government decisions around funding priorities.”

Speaking of regional councils’ enforcement of water consent conditions: “…there needs to be more consistency to ensure breaches in consent conditions are dealt with properly and fairly.”

“Rank rivers and lakes from cleanest to dirtiest in a national database against national standards, using scientific data. Currently, data and records vary throughout, and between, regions. There is no way to tell which rivers are the most polluted.”

Does that sound like a vote of confidence in our regional councils?!

The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council is guilty on all counts — from poor data to unsustainable water allocations to poor enforcement of water quality.

This is by no means a political endorsement, but one has to wonder whether the worst standards a National Government might come up with (pressed by the Land & Water Forum) would not be incomparably better than anything our HBRC stumbles upon!

National has also proposed that the Parliamentary Commissioner on the Environment independently measure and report on water quality (and other environmental indicators) every five years.

Last week BayBuzz hosted a publicly advertised water forum attended by over 200 citizens. Anyone could have come (only one Regional Councillor did, Liz Remmerswaal). Over 100 of those individuals filled out a survey modeled on a national environmental survey conducted by Lincoln University. Here’s what they said:

Asked to rate the water quality in our region’s rivers, 77% said poor, 13% adequate, 3% good, 7% don’t know.

Asked to rate our Regional Council’s performance of water management functions, 76% said poor, 14% adequate, 2% good, 8% don’t know.

Maybe they were all National voters!

We’ll be releasing more results from the survey next week.

Tom Belford

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1 Comment

  1. The Listener editorial this week (26Nov-2Dec) covers this topic in quoting the Northland Regional Council's inadequate measures in controlling water quality by fencing stock out of rivers. There are no rules preventing it seems in that region.

    It describes how Whangarei man Millan Ruka has posted photographs on the internet that reveal stock in unfenced rivers taken when he canoed up some of the waterways with a GPS camera.

    The editorial is headed 'Shine a Light". Worth reading.

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