Today the Government announced a suite of further freshwater management reforms. The headline change is a new target that 90 per cent of New Zealand's lakes and rivers meet swimmable water quality standards by 2040. The target will be achieved through a range of further amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 (NPSFM). In addition to the changes to the NPSFM, the Government is consulting on new regulations requiring stock to be fenced out of waterways. Other non-regulatory changes include a new $100 million Freshwater Improvement Fund.

This announcement follows the Green Party petition to the Government to make New Zealand rivers safe to swim in. The proposed changes to the NPSFM and the proposed new regulations reflect the ongoing focus on the management of freshwater quality in New Zealand, a topic which is likely to feature strongly in the upcoming election.

The rest of this article includes a more detailed summary of the proposed changes and how you can be involved in the consultation process.

Changes to the NPSFM

The proposed changes to the NPSFM include:

  • Requiring regional councils to identify where the quality of lakes and rivers will be improved, with swimming being a consideration at all points of the objective and limit-setting process;
  • Requiring regional councils to report how often lakes and rivers are suitable for swimming and to identify in regional plans those lakes and rivers currently suitable for swimming and which water bodies will be improved to make them suitable for swimming more often;
  • Requiring regional councils to monitor macroinvertebrates in rivers and streams;
  • Limiting the concept of "maintain or improve" to within a freshwater management unit;
  • Requiring regional councils to establish in-stream objectives for concentrations of dissolved inorganic nitrogen and dissolved reactive phosphorus when managing for periphyton (slime)
  • Requiring regional councils to consider the community's economic well-being when making decisions about water quantity, deciding what level or pace of water quality improvements will be targeted, and when establishing freshwater objectives;
  • Clarifying that regional councils can only set freshwater objectives below national bottom lines in limited situations; Clarifying requirements for coastal lakes and lagoons; and Clarification as to the meaning of Te Mana o Te Wai.
  • New regulations

    With regard to stock exclusion, the Government is proposing to introduce regulations to exclude stock from water bodies over a set period of time. This will vary depending on stock and land types from July 2017 to July 2030. There will be the opportunity for landowners to develop a stock exclusion plan where it is impracticable to comply with the standard stock exclusion requirements. Regional councils also have a discretion to include more stringent requirements, including management techniques such as riparian buffers. Infringement fees are proposed in instances of non-compliance and regional councils will maintain the discretion to prosecute.

    How to get involved

    These changes will require careful consideration by regional councils and territorial and unitary authorities, given the requirement for regional and district plans to give effect to a National Policy Statement. The changes will also directly affect landowners.

    We have considerable experience and expertise in freshwater management planning, which can affect not only local authorities but a wide range of industries, stakeholders, interest groups and communities. If you want to know more about how these proposed changes might affect you, please contact our Resource Management and Environmental Law Team.

    The Government is seeking feedback on the proposed changes, and submissions close at 5:00pm on Friday 28 April 2017.

    The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.