New Zealand: Further changes to the management of freshwater in NZ

This morning, the Government announced its plan to tackle water quality issues in New Zealand, with a focus on stopping further degradation and loss, reversing past damage, and addressing water allocation issues.

You can read about the Government's Essential Freshwater work programme, here: http://www.mfe.govt.nz/node/24402

What you need to know

There are three key changes signalled by the Government, which will likely have a significant impact on local authorities. These include an amended National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, a new National Environmental Standard for Freshwater Management 2020, and further amendments to the Resource Management Act 1991.
Six workstreams have been identified in the Government's Essential Freshwater work programme, as follows:

  1. At-risk catchments (picking up on the recommendations of the Land and Water Forum)
  2. National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management amendments
  3. National Environmental Standard for Freshwater Management
  4. Resource Management Act amendments
  5. Allocation of freshwater resources
  6. Future framework

In respect of amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, the areas currently being considered are, broadly:

  • How to better provide for ecosystem health
  • Potential new attributes – sediment, copper and zinc, and dissolved oxygen
  • Clarifying the direction around how to set effective limits
  • Better protection for wetlands and sensitive downstream environments, e.g. estuaries
  • Potential policy around at-risk catchments
  • Resolving exceptions to national bottom lines
  • Other changes proposed by the Land and Water Forum (http://www.landandwater.org.nz/) and other groups

Public consultation will be held in 2019 regarding the amendments, with the amended National Policy Statement for Freshwater coming into force in 2020.

A new National Environmental Standard for Freshwater Management will prohibit or restrict certain activities. It is anticipated that intensive winter grazing, hill country cropping, and feedlots will be regulated under a National Environmental Standard for Freshwater Management. The focus will be, broadly:

  • Preventing further loss of wetlands and urban streams
  • Potential mechanisms for managing intensification, including targeting at-risk catchments
  • Potential direction around the use of farm environment plans, good management practices such as stock exclusion and riparian management
  • Rules to control activities such as intensive winter grazing, hill country cropping, and feedlots
  • Potential direction on nutrient allocation
  • Direction for the review of existing consents
  • A default regime for ecological flow and levels where none are set, and how minimum flows apply to existing consents

Public consultation will be held in 2019 regarding a new National Environmental Standard for Freshwater Management, coming into force in 2020.

An Amendment Bill to the Resource Management Act 1991 will be introduced to Parliament in late 2018 or early 2019, focussing on the ability to better enable regional councils to review consents to more quickly implement water quality and quantity limits, and to strengthen enforcement tools for improving environmental compliance.

In terms of allocating freshwater resources, there are two main aspects; the discharge of contaminants, and the authority to take and use water. The initial focus will be on the allocation of contaminant discharges (the Government's plan to address the take and use of water remains rather vague). The Government intends to work with Kahui Wai Maori (the Maori Freshwater Forum) and the Freshwater Leaders Group to explore the development of a fair and efficient allocation system, working through the tension between existing users and owners of undeveloped land, including Maori, which the Land and Water Forum was unable to resolve.

Opportunities for consultation

It is important for regional councils, as well as those holding water permits, to engage in the consultation process, particularly in respect of any transitional provisions, given that many regional councils are in the middle of regional planning exercises regarding freshwater management. The Government has recognised that regional councils are "vital partners in improving freshwater quality, because of their links to local communities and their statutory role".

Look out for the release of the Amendment Bill to the Resource Management Act 1991 in the next few months, and the anticipated consultation in 2019 regarding the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and the National Environmental Standard for Freshwater Management.

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