The Government has released today a wide-ranging plan, which aims to "stop the degradation of our rivers and lakes, achieve a noticeable improvement in five years and restore our waterways within a generation."
The proposal document, Action for healthy waterways – A discussion document on national direction for our essential freshwater, sets out the recommendations for improving freshwater, which include:
- setting and clarifying policy direction, including introducing a new freshwater planning process for councils;
- raising the bar on ecosystem health, including protecting wetlands and streams through a new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management;
- setting higher standards to reduce contamination in the places in which New Zealanders swim in summer;
- a faster and more streamlined planning process through an amended Resource Management Act;
- an amended Drinking Water National Environment Standard and proposed Wastewater National Environmental Standard to support the delivery of safe drinking water and improved management of stormwater and wastewater;
- restrict any further intensification of land use after June 2020, such as new irrigation or conversion to dairying, until all regions have operative freshwater management plans;
- require more fencing and wider setbacks to keep stock out of waterways, reduce erosion, and capture contaminants before they reach the water; and
- improving farming practices, including ensuring farmers and growers understand and manage environmental risks through farm plans.
In making today's announcement, the Government acknowledged that farming practices have improved markedly in the past 20 years, but said that there is still work to be done. This year's Budget included a $229 million package to implement this plan, although exactly what these funds will be used for is currently unclear.
The need to improve New Zealand's freshwater also isn't limited to the rural community. The Government noted that "some of our most degraded freshwater environments are in urban areas", and investment is needed to better separate sewage from stormwater, and stop pollution and loss of streams and wetlands.
Submissions on the plan can be made until 17 October 2019. We suggest that individual farmers and other affected people consider making individual submissions to complement those from industry bodies, given the potential effects of these proposals.
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