The eagerly awaited report of the Land and Water Forum was released today … and not a day too soon as far as Hawke’s Bay water management is concerned. Fittingly titled A Fresh Start for Freshwater, the 85-page report (download here) provides a comprehensive blueprint for managing New Zealand’s freshwater resources.

The Forum included representation from all sectors and interests (58 participating organisations), and laboured over a year to produce a set of 53 recommendations regarding water standards and allocation, rural infrastructure (including water storage), and governance.

From an environmentalist perspective, early reactions are positive.

Gary Taylor of the Environmental Defense Society, an initiator of the Forum, said: “Overall the Land and Water Forum has produced a credible report containing 53 separate recommendations that if implemented will achieve a step-change in the management of New Zealand’s valuable freshwater resources …

“The Forum agreed that we urgently need a National Policy Statement to provide overall policy direction and that the one recommended by the Board of Inquiry is a good basis for one. In my view it’s crucially important that the Minister for the Environment promulgates a National Policy Statement as soon as possible. Any other issues can be dealt with separately and should not slow down getting national guidance in place. This is the single most important issue.”

Dr Russel Norman, Co-leader of the Green Party was a bit more reserved: “While the report could have gone further to recommend changes that will protect our precious and stressed water resources, it has the potential to lead to positive change, and its collaborative process has been a good example of consensus building in action. The Green Party supports the establishment of a Land and Water Commission and a fund to clean up contaminated water bodies. We agree that incentives are needed for water to be managed efficiently, and suggest that the best way to do this is to charge a resource rental for commercial water users.

Nevertheless, I am concerned that the report does not adequately address the issue of water storage and irrigation.”

Like Taylor, Dr Norman called for speedy action on the pending National Policy Standard on water quality, saying: “The Land and Water Forum’s report says we need to set standards, limits, and targets for water quality as soon as possible. After years of careful work we have a National Policy Statement (NPS) on Freshwater Management all ready to go that would set these rules. The forum agrees that we need an NPS, and we need one fast – so what is Nick Smith waiting for?”

There’s much to digest in this fulsome report. Here are just three excerpts, the first describing the current situation:

“New Zealand has made good progress in clearing up point source pollution over the last twenty years, but monitoring shows that our water quality is declining in many places, particularly in lowland waterbodies. Also, urban waterways remain highly polluted, including on account of sewage leakages, stormwater run-off and discharges from processing factories. At a national level, diffuse discharges now greatly exceed point source pollution.

“Impacts of land use on water bodies can be subject to considerable lags and around 64% of monitored lakes in pastoral landscapes are already classed eutrophic or worse. Declining water quality impacts on biodiversity, aquatic ecosystems and instream uses. It can affect human and animal health. It affects the credibility of our international brand.

“Many catchments are over-allocated or approaching full allocation. Water scarcity is an increasing problem in some areas, and may be worsened by changing weather patterns, but our current system of allocating water does not encourage efficient use or easily allow transfer to best use.

“The development of irrigation and hydro electric schemes has been litigious and slow. Urban infrastructure has in many places been subject to deferred investment, leakage and waste and sewage overflows.

“Water is vital to our economic development, but our water management is getting increased scrutiny from New Zealanders concerned at declining water quality, from tourists, and from overseas buyers, driven by their customers’ insistence that their suppliers follow good environmental practices. We have a reputation as a producer of high quality, safe, fresh food consistent with our clean green image and our ability to live up to our 100% pure New Zealand brand is increasingly important in many of our high value markets. If we can meet growing demand with products originating in first class, well managed, environmentally responsible systems, we can use our competitive advantages of water plus know-how to achieve value- added economic growth.”

And on the recommended standards framework:

“We propose the adoption of a standards framework for New Zealand which:

  • Stems from a strategic view of water for New Zealand
  • Defines national objectives for the environmental state of our water bodies and the
    overall timeframes within which to achieve them through National Policy Statements (NPS’s) and National Environmental Standards (NES’s) made under the Resource Management Act (RMA)
  • Requires regions to give effect to this national framework at regional to catchment (or sub-catchment) level taking into account the spatial variation in biophysical characteristics of their water bodies and their current state
  • Within that framework, requires regions to engage communities, including iwi, about the ways in which their water bodies are valued, and to work collaboratively with relevant land and water users and interested parties to set catchment-specific targets, standards and limits
  • Maintains regional councils’ control of the use of land for the purpose of the maintenance and enhancement of the quality of water in water bodies and the maintenance of the quantity of water in water bodies and coastal water.

This framework would address direct and diffuse discharges, both urban and rural, as well as flows.”

And lastly, on regional governance:

“Regional governance must be improved if the current devolved model is to be retained. We propose the addition of government appointees to regional councils to provide skills and attributes that they may lack; the mandatory development of regional water plans, with a national template, and following a collaborative approach; and adequate representation for iwi in water-related committees.

Improved direction must be given to regional councils including through National Policy Statements and National Environmental Standards.”

And: “In order to manage limits, in particular for diffuse contaminants, regional councils need to make use of their existing powers under section 30 of the RMA to control land uses that impact on water quality.”

All recommendations our soon-to-be-elected Regional Councillors will need to take aboard with urgency.

Tom Belford

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2 Comments

  1. For 2 decades or more the need for a National water quality standard has been obvious to those like Dave Renouf, myself and others around NZ who have been pro active in our respective related issue areas.

    Dave has stated this for the past decade while the powers that be went relentlessly on reinventing the wheel rather than learn from overseas experiences.

    Morry Black has done an outstanding job over the 20 year period to climb from public protester to hearings Commissioner status.

    Yesterday at the end of the members meeting I stayed on to listen to sickly statements some members made in praising themselves and the chair for the work they had done in their 3 year term.

    Some in their quest for re-election make claims of being responsible for things painstakingly achieved by years of costly unpaid submissions and lobbying by members of the public they are supposed to represent.

    An entrenched cycle of under performance by layperson members can only be changed by changing the antiquated system of governance to one of professional peoples representation.

    In a governance founded on democratic values the quality of representation is a reflection of the quality of the nation as a whole.

    There is a problem with a substandard pro establishment media that perpetuates this.

  2. quite. as usual, reports such as this are 20 years overdue, and only stating the obvious. it will probably be another decade before councils have to comply with the standards being developed. meanwhile the current HBRC can’t even hold to it’s own outdated standards in terms of allocation. just watch the hearings panel dodge their own scientists’ advice!

    wouldn’t it be nice to see a council forging ahead of the pack, and implementing, immediately, standards as high or higher than those proposed?

    maybe you’ll take that on, Tom.

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