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Government proposes raft of changes aimed at improving water quality, including restricting intensification of land use without proof this won't increase pollution; Federated Farmers says proposals could lead to 'wholesale land use change'

Government proposes raft of changes aimed at improving water quality, including restricting intensification of land use without proof this won't increase pollution; Federated Farmers says proposals could lead to 'wholesale land use change'

The Government wants to put greater restrictions on farmers who want to use their land in a more intensive way.

It’s proposing to, from June 2020, restrict farmers from using new irrigation schemes or converting to dairy, unless they can prove this won’t increase pollution.

In a consultation document, Action for Healthy Waterways, the Government says it wants to “tightly restrict any further intensification of land use through interim measures until all regions have operative freshwater management plans”.

It is proposing a raft of other legislative and regulatory changes to clean up lakes and rivers within “a generation”.

These include changes to the Resource Management Act, updates to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, updates to the National Environmental Standard for Sources of Human Drinking Water, and the introduction of new National Environmental Standards for Freshwater and Wastewater.

The thing that is off the cards, due to the Labour/New Zealand First Coalition Agreement, is the introduction of “resource rentals for water”.

Here is a summary of the proposals. The public has until October 17 to provide feedback.

Federated Farmers: "Proposals essentially throw farming under the tractor"

Federated Farmers estimates large parts of rural New Zealand will have to abandon their reliance on the pastoral sector based on the freshwater proposals released today.

The Essential Freshwater announcements could lead to wholesale land use change to meet unnecessarily stringent targets.

The proposed National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management nutrient levels will require parts of New Zealand to reduce their nitrogen by up to 80%.

"It becomes very hard to continue economically farming animals or growing vegetables under a regime like this," Federated Farmers environment and water spokesperson Chris Allen says.

"The long term targets for nitrogen reduction, are effectively unachievable in some parts of the country, and will end pastoral farming in these areas."

Federated Farmers continues to be supportive of government effort to improve and maintain water quality, the use of farm environment plans and the continued shift to ‘GMP’ - good management practice policy.

"But with today’s proposals the government seems to be signalling it is prepared to gamble with the viability of food production as the major export earner for New Zealand."

Feds has one simple message for the government, freshwater quality will continue to improve in rural areas, because farmers and growers are already doing the work.

"Lumping regional councils, with an entirely new regulatory system to implement and manage puts up everyone’s rates, and gives little additional support to actual water quality results," Chris says.

"Millions of dollars raised from increased rates which could have been spent on more river and waterway restoration will now be spent on hearings, lawyers and other random water experts," Chris says.

"Basically your rates will go up, while farmers are doing the work anyway."

Feds is particularly concerned about the proposed "interim controls" which will have untold ramifications for the New Zealand economy, as there will be an inevitable slump in land values, across all sectors and regions.

"The discussion documents say an ‘interim control’ is not a ban. But if it stops you from doing something with your own land, without appeal or any achievable recourse, then it’s a ban, pure and simple," Chris says.

This ban will have a significantly negative knock-on effect for all rural and urban communities where the activity of the primary sector is the lifeblood earner for the cafes, sports clubs, banks, insurance companies, car dealerships, restaurants, shopping malls and all the other people downstream of New Zealand’s largest earner.

"All we ask is for regulation that is based on science and evidence."

Federated Farmers encourages all farmers to do their best to input into this process despite the short consultation period of six weeks and it being held at the busiest time of the year for farmers.

Fish and Game NZ: Industry-set standards "need to be rejected"

Today's Government announcement has the potential to fix New Zealand's freshwater pollution crisis - but only if the right options are selected, Fish & Game New Zealand Chief Executive Martin Taylor says.

"New Zealanders deserve fresh clean water and we welcome today’s announcement. It contains a number of good options, which, if selected, will start dealing with the clean water crisis," Mr Taylor says.

"For example, we support the stance that, by 2025, regional councils will be required to have made final decisions on plans and actions that will improve freshwater ecosystem health.

"The focus on ecosystem health is long overdue, as are the new proposed planning processes that should force councils to change how they manage water.

"We also welcome the productive land package of $229 million which will support farmers’ transition to sustainable practices.

"However, we have concerns regarding a number of bad options around industry set standards and enforcement. These need to be rejected. 

"The reality is that some intensive dairying operations are heavy polluters who do not want strong, mandatory rules because they want to maximise profit margins."

An example of this is winter break feeding practice in Southland.

Martin Taylor says it is essential that the Government select the options which set mandatory, enforceable rules for intensive agriculture, as voluntary accords and unenforced Farm Environmental Plans have failed the country.

"Voluntary farm environmental plans have been around for decades and they are one of the main reasons for the current degraded state of our rivers and streams."

The NES is about holding the line and stopping degradation getting worse now, while the NPS is about delivering better water quality for all New Zealanders going forward.

"We also believe a Fresh Water Commission is a good idea worth further discussion."

A recent Colmar Brunton poll conducted for Fish & Game New Zealand showed that pollution of our rivers and lakes remains a top concern for Kiwis with two-thirds expecting the Government to put rules and regulations in place to protect water quality.

"Three quarters - 77 per cent - of those surveyed said they were extremely or very concerned about the pollution of lakes and rivers.

"These results show the depth of feeling kiwis have about the loss of what they considered their birthright - clean rivers, lakes and streams.

"Kiwis expect to be able to swim, fish and gather food from their rivers, lakes and streams. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to tackle an issue Kiwis are deeply concerned about. Let's get this right."

National: "This document will only add to farmers’ and growers’ uncertainty"

The proposals in the Government’s Freshwater Discussion Document released today are short-sighted and will severely limit our most profitable sector, National’s Environment spokesperson Scott Simpson says.

“While we encourage the constant improvement of our waterways, many of the changes proposed will have perverse effects on our primary sector and the wider economy.

“Despite David Parker making freshwater a key part of his election campaign, it’s taken two years to finally see some proposals.

“The Essential Freshwater proposals will limit the flexibility of New Zealand farmers to adjust to market conditions and change their land use. The effects of this would be far reaching and could restrict farmers from innovating, which is one of New Zealand’s key advantages.

“Water is a both a critical strategic asset and a source of recreation in New Zealand, and we all know it must be abundant, healthy, clean and cost effective.

“National established a comprehensive National Policy Statement whilst in Government and worked alongside our primary sector to clean our waterways, which have been steadily improving, as shown by the Government’s own data from Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA). This is a major achievement of our farmers but not a story David Parker wants to tell.

“The primary sector has already taken responsibility for water with dairy farmers fencing off over 98 per cent of waterways and spending over $1 billion in environmental investment over the last five years. National applauds these efforts while acknowledging there must be more done.

“This document will only add to farmers’ and growers’ uncertainty as there is still no clarity as to what might be coming down the pipeline for them. And further tinkering with the RMA will do nothing for public or business confidence.

“The Government is taking a complex issue that requires a measured, science-based approach and is instead proposing we hamstring our most profitable sector, which accounts for 60 per cent of our exports. We all want improved water quality but this drastic action will smash the economic engine of our country.”

Local Government NZ: Pace of change can only go as fast as a community’s ability to pay

Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) has welcomed the launch of the Essential Freshwater package as an important step to cleaning up the country’s waterways, but says more work is needed to ensure that the Government right-sizes the package to take communities with them.

“Cleaning up New Zealand’s waterways is a goal that all New Zealanders can get behind, and something that both regional councils and territorial authorities have been working towards for many years,” said LGNZ President Dave Cull.

“The challenge in doing this has been the tools with which we’d had to do the job, which is why the Essential Freshwater package is a welcome announcement.  It will considerably sharpen these policy tools, and enable councils to progress the environmental outcomes that their communities want.”

“However, getting the detail and timeline settings right will be critical. We need to set our urban and rural communities up for success by right-sizing the new regulatory requirements and the deadlines so that they can meet them.”

“The reality is that the pace of freshwater change can only go as fast as a community’s ability to pay. This is particularly so when you consider the tsunami of regulatory costs that rural and provincial areas are staring at, as well as ageing infrastructure such as storm water and waste water treatment plants across the country.

LGNZ’s Regional Sector Water Subgroup has worked closely with the Government and the Ministry for the Environment as one of the Essential Freshwater Sub-Groups to assess the feasibility of various policy tools to meet the Government’s environmental outcomes.

“The Regional Sector strongly supports the Government’s goal to improve water quality, and continues to be well positioned as part of the solution. We are committed to taking a lead role in implementing the reforms, but recognise there are major challenges ahead,” said Doug Leeder, Chair of LGNZ’s Regional Sector and Bay of Plenty Regional Council.

“We want to ensure that the likely impact of the new proposals on communities is well understood and factored into the pace of change, so that we can then lend the Government our full support when the final package comes out.”

“Improvement in freshwater is a long-term game. What changes behaviour faster is on-the-ground support and incentives for landowners and resource users to make the necessary changes. Regional councils are already working with landowners, tangata whenua and community groups to get action, but public and private affordability will always have constraints.”

The Regional Sector also highlighted the need for an all-of-system response from Government to ensure the package can be implemented in the projected timeframes.

“From a New Zealand Inc. perspective we know that there are significant capacity, capability, and data gaps that will need to be closed to implement this package. The technically skilled staff we need just aren’t there in the numbers we need to do our job,” said Mr Leeder.

“That’s why we’re calling for an all-of-system response from Government. We need to ensure our tertiary institutions across the country are aligning their curriculums to the demand coming down the track for technical water skills. We also need to focus the National Science Challenges on freshwater, so that they’re actively closing the gaps in our scientific understanding of complex ecosystems.

“Ultimately, we all need to take responsibility to improve water quality, and that means everyone doing their part.”

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Pity it can't come into effect tomorrow as I can see I lot of wetlands drained in the next 10 or so months

Bears at least some of the hallmarks of the O&G Captain's Call.....and leans hard on the prospects of a major export earner. And, to spice the context, there will no doubt be some further push to 'enhance flagging Tourism' - dissonance much?

We are going to get used to less of everything sooner or later, including tourism. We need to have a mechanism to "forgive" debt too because it wont be able to be serviced in some cases.

who's debt are you talking about, mine or yours?

Combined. He's onto it.

True. For some reason I feel the penny has really dropped in the last six months or so that now is the time we all need to be making actual changes to our lifestyle, not just talk about it. Yes we need to live with less, it’s that simple. For my family meatless Monday’s have ramped up to Wednesday’s as well and we consider carbon emissions when talking about holiday locations.

I sit on the fence with this issue. I see the obvious benefits from reducing nitrate and other pollution from our current agriculture systems. However, I am yet to see someone come up with a reasonable and practicable alternative agriculture system that can be proven to; not require large amounts of fertiliser, pesticides or monoculture to be economically viable or require massive amounts of extracted or diverted fresh water (the very resource we are trying to protect).

It is quite straight forward - reduced stocking rates and application of organic principles (which has been demonstrated to increase profitability with less inputs).

Land values are too high for destocking. Beekeeping is the only industry ive seen that comes close. And now that industry is over stocked for the amount of available nectar resources

If your land prices are based on the unsustainable over-utilisation of resources and the surrounding environment then it's fair to say the prices are also unsustainable...

Exactly. Landowners are in between a rock and a hard place now - the rock being ever tightening regulations and the hard place being the bank

Prices are unsustainable both for land and product.

The former needs to come down, and the latter needs to increase.

We can save the environment but it will cost ( but no one wants to pay though do they, only the DINKS can afford to be truly neutral buying a few trees to offset their trip to India for yoga camp).

The future will be about food and community, just like it was before the Industrial Revolution.

Gotta love the statement that 'the health and well-being of the water will be put first in decision-making'. So if it flows through Nasty Turbines to generate more-excitable electrons, is Compulsorily Pumped into Tiny Claustrophobic Plastic Pipes for urban water supply, is crapped into by 3 million urbanites then flushed into the nearest bay after getting wrangled through a treatment plant (if it's lucky - flushed straight out to sea if it has rained a bit and overflows), or is forced into 'Orrible Plastic Bottles and sold to/enslaved by Questionable Furriners, then it's bound to feel that it's Wellbeing has been Hammered. But I'm sure that a carefully designed survey will be able to tell us all How That Water Feelz....

its outrageous to think in NZ we literally shit into potable water haha

yes dumbandbroke,
The Mississippi River principle also applies in NZ: those living upstream - such as in Hamilton - need to remember to flush the toilet as those downstream - such as Auckland - need the drinking water.

... are you taking the piss ?

No ! ... Orc Land is ... ah haaa haaaaaa

Why the need to avoid what you are clearly smart enough to know, Waymad?

so whats my farm worth now?

less than you paid for it

I doubt it, it's gone up 4x since 2000.

Well then sell it now before environmental regulations destroy its productive value

With this and debt deleveraging around the corner from the coming depression NZ will be a very different place in 5 to 10 years. A future Argentina perhaps?

We all need to play our part-it seems double standard that city councils & regional councils all have mega year consents to allow storm & sewage to overflow into waterways with no accountability,but when dairy farmers are found to breach their consent,the full force of the law in environment court is used.Human effluent is more toxic to human health than dairy.Neither should end up in waterways.

agreed. But most big cities in NZ only pollute the last few ks ...whereas diary does bugga up a much longer length. No excuse. Watching the Wiakato as you move down its length from taupo is a shocker...its stuffed well before Hamilton (and yes the damns dont help), but the nitrates and poos......

So just sweep all that city waste going into the ocean and atmosphere under the rug aye ??

Isn't the effort to stop overflow into waterways exactly what Watercare is working to fix with their new Interceptor and the additional levies on Aucklanders to pay for it? Anticipated to reduce overflows 80% by 2025.

I seem to remember that Germany had a good idea. Any city or organisation is required to take it's water supply downstream from the point where it can be polluted by their discharges. I.e. if you want to put crap in the water you end up having to drink it. Great motivation to minimize your pollution.

note to self - dont drink bottled water from Germany

A University of Otago study investigating chemicals in New Zealand waterways has found evidence of pesticides banned in some European countries present in agricultural streams.

They found two or more pesticides at 75 percent of the sites, and four or more pesticides at just under 40 percent of sites.

I must say as a farmer I have an issue with this. Every time I drive to town I have to pass a big corporate farmer, man they are the chemical ali's of the farming world. I don't know what drives them to this intensive madness. It's the intensive cropping/vegetable growers who have the most leaching.

We have good systems and we know more about cover crops etc than we did ten years ago. I am amazed that farmers in the USA are so far ahead of us. We are stuck in an old paradigm .

Having said that it's not just farming screwing up at present.

If you really want to fix farming, i'd suggest an asset tax, 1% for the first 10 mill and then 2% . I would get rid of income tax. So no interest deductions or the new ute/tractor, done on rateable values.
That would totally change the way we view land and the price we pay for it.

No - monetary controls don't work for the same reason we're in this multi-faceted mess - money is too blind, You simply need rules, and obviously they're going to be limiting. Any farmer who didn't see this coming....... was probably silly enough to think milk prices were immutable.

I don't think society will accept the rules.

Let's hope that Fed Farmers are realistic with these policies. At least fools like Conor English are gone from FF with his ideas that any water dribbling to the ocean was a waste. Him and his brother set the water discussion back decades and Nationals policies of encouraging dairy into areas it should never have gone are now coming home to roost.

looks like nutrient caps will undo irrigation anyway. Nothing will be the same.

Government finally showing signs of life. Well they were quietly slumbering from the inception of the RMA. section 5 said sustainable use. The Government and Regional Councils and District Councils all approved the changes of use. The Dairy farmers just took advantage.
National policy should have been issued in 1992 not 2019.
I have no sympathy for anyone who caused or took advantage of the slack implementation of the RMA.
There are people out there who will be disadvantaged by this and have not been involved in the rape of the environment.

"raft of changes aimed at improving water quality, including restricting intensification of land use without proof this won't increase pollution;"
The proof is going to be a very nice meal for consultants. Minimum $10k for the report