Land and Water Forum issues its final Report to Government on the tools and approaches required to manage and develop NZ's fresh water resources

The Land and Water Forum has now released its third and final Report to the Government. A wide range of groups have welcomed it.

The Forum brings together a set of industry groups, electricity generators, environmental and recreational NGOs, iwi, scientists, and other organisations with a stake in freshwater and land management. They have been joined by central and local government observers in developing a common direction for freshwater management in New Zealand and provide advice to the Government.

A Small Group, with representatives from 21 organisations, met on a monthly basis and reported to a wider membership of 62 organisations.

There has been wide buy-in on fresh water management from such diverse interests, despite a split on some of the recommendations.
“New Zealanders are concerned about a decline in water quality seen in many areas. This creates risks to our biodiversity, our economy, iwi interests and recreation,” said Amy Adams, the Environment Minister..
“LAWF identifies the need for better collaboration, and consideration of the full range of values we hold and what it means to deliver on those values when making decisions around fresh water.”

The following is a summary issued by the Forum.


Fresh water is a major driver of our economy, it sustains our unique environment, it is deeply embedded in our culture and life-style, and for many of us it is part of our identity.

Fresh water is one of New Zealand’s most important advantages – it is a national Taonga.

The Land and Water Forum came together in 2009 because we agreed that, although water is critical to our well-being and prosperity as a nation, we have too often made a poor job of managing it.

We agreed that we had to do better and decided to work collaboratively to work out how.

Over the past three years the Forum, with assistance from the government, has built a very substantial agreement among all key stakeholders in support of a new fresh water management framework for New Zealand – one that is more transparent, efficient and fair, and will help resolve historic issues and provide certainty for the future.

The third report of the Land and Water Forum

Our first report, released in September 2010, set out a blueprint for freshwater management that broke a policy deadlock which had been in place since at least the mid-1990s.

This report paved the way for the Government to promulgate a National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management and to establish two multi-million dollar funds to step up the clean-up of iconic waterbodies and facilitate the development of high-quality irrigation infrastructure.

Our second report, released in April 2012, provided detail on key elements of the blueprint and described the nature of fresh water limits, the outline of a framework of national objectives within which catchment-specific limits would be set, a collaborative and agile process for policy- and plan-making.

The outcome of the Government’s work on the National Objectives Framework will have important implications for our current recommendations.

The proposals in this third report present the tools and approaches required to manage fresh water to meet limits and achieve freshwater objectives, and to realise the potential of New Zealand's fresh water economy.

We view these two objectives as two sides of the same coin.

Communities will collaborate (within a national regulatory framework and assisted by national guidance) to identify the specific issues in each catchment, set objectives and limits, and decide on solutions to address those issues effectively and meet their aspirations. All activities in the catchment which have an impact on water quality and flow will be accounted for and brought into the management framework.

This in turn will create a more transparent, secure and enabling environment for business and investment decisions.

There are already a variety of methods, techniques and programmes that are being developed throughout New Zealand to enhance the use and management of fresh water. They need to be reinforced, improved, more widely disseminated and integrated at local level into catchment planning.

Sector good management practice (GMP) schemes, in particular, will play a key role in helping users achieving freshwater objectives while maintaining and enhancing the profitability of their businesses.

Market-based instruments could also play an important part in the new water management regime in some catchments.

More active and dynamic water management

Our three reports together provide a comprehensive package – both blueprint and detail – which aims to establish more active and dynamic management of fresh water and land use practices that have an effect on water quality.

This entails:

a. securing the quality of our environment and social and cultural values around fresh water, through the setting and application of catchment-specific objectives and limits within a national framework,

b. identifying robust, advantageous solutions that protect and enhance our fresh water and the communities, enterprises and the regional and national economies that rely on it, through collaborative processes involving stakeholders at catchment level,

c. a more transparent system to support better collective and individual decision making and accountability,

d. developing and supporting a range of methods, techniques and tools to improve (both economically and environmentally) the management and use of New Zealand’s fresh water, integrating good management practices with other tools to manage water quality,

e. managing fresh water in a dynamic and adaptive way so that users and managers of the resource can respond to changes in knowledge, expectations, and environmental and economic conditions, and to provide for new entrants.

We believe that it is time to move past the perception that trading-off or balancing values against each other is an almost inescapable part of freshwater management.

There are many ways to pursue environmental, economic and social benefits at once, including through accessing new water through efficiency gains and new infrastructure, adding value to our products and services, science and innovation, and leveraging off our environmental performance in export markets.

The change we propose sets up the system towards outcomes which are advantageous to all parties, by encouraging people, enterprises and agencies to participate actively and collaboratively to devise and implement local solutions.

Iwi rights and interests

We think that New Zealanders can move forward to create an effective and fair system of freshwater management – one which will enable economic growth, strengthen our communities, enhance our environment and safeguard the ecological systems on which we all depend.

Indeed, in many regions around the country we have already begun to do so.

For a system which articulates general rights and interests to be stable and durable, however, iwi rights and interests also need to be resolved. The Forum has developed an integrated catchment management approach to managing freshwater within limits that does not prejudge discussions between the Treaty Partners, but is sufficiently flexible to accommodate outcomes from negotiations between Iwi and the Crown.

The report contains a statement on iwi rights and interests in fresh water.

Catchment planning

Decisions on methods and approaches to manage freshwater quality and quantity in each catchment should follow from, and inform, the setting of objectives and limits (described in more detail in our second report).

If limits are to work, they need to have the buy-in of the community, following a comprehensive consideration of local issues, aspirations and opportunities.

Regional plans need to be well-understood and properly enforced. Roles, responsibilities and implementation timeframes need to be clear and agreed. The nature of the issues facing each catchment will vary and the catchment planning process should draw on local knowledge, stakeholder expertise and national guidance to identify the optimal approach and tools – regulatory and non-regulatory – for achieving catchment-specific objectives.

The role of existing infrastructure and the contribution that its modernisation and/or further development can make to meeting catchment objectives should be considered in the planning process and reflected in the way that limits are set.

Catchments are under different states of pressure, and prioritisation will be required to target the ones at high-risk.

In some cases steps (such as the establishment of targets and interim limits) will need to be taken to prevent further degradation or to avoid over-allocation prior to the development of catchment-specific objectives, limits and water quality management frameworks.

For efficiency purposes, it will sometimes be appropriate to initiate a common planning process for a range of very similar catchments in a region.

Managing water quality

The primary goal in managing water quality must be to integrate land and water management within a catchment.

To achieve this, all discharges (diffuse and point source) need to be brought within the management regime.

Regional councils, with their communities, will need to identify the total current catchment load for each contaminant, identify the specific sources, and consider the most appropriate mix of methods and tools that will achieve the objectives they have set.

Different mixes of contaminants, different patterns of land-use (current and historical), and the complexities of natural environments mean that management approaches will need to be tailored to specific catchments.

In many cases, there will be a time-lag between interventions and effects – changes to the management regime often won’t have an immediate effect on water quality.

In some catchments, the legacy effects of historical land practices have yet to materialise. This means that it may be some time before we see improvements in water quality.

It is important that we start now.

Water quality will be maintained and improved only if individual enterprises adopt good management practice (GMP).

There are also good business reasons to improve practice. GMP schemes are essential methods for achieving limits and freshwater objectives. GMP can be nested in the regulatory framework, but contains a suite of methods and tools, which collectively manage the range of contaminants from a particular land use in an integrated way. GMP should be adopted in all catchments.

Audited self-management (ASM) schemes transfer day-to-day management responsibility to users under agreed terms, and subject to transparent audit (see LAWF1).

ASM can be used across most management methods (regulatory and non-regulatory) and is a key tool in implementing GMP.

Allocating water

To make the most of our land and water resources, we need to create an investment environment that allows our communities, our farmers and our businesses to create value.

The water allocation framework needs to foster investment certainty and allow water to move to its highest valued use over time.

Consents should be exclusive, non-derogable, and effectively enforced, and of a suitable duration to provide the security of tenure necessary to stimulate investment.

The transfer and trading of consents should be facilitated through the removal of regulatory barriers.

The act of setting a limit will serve to define the amount of water that is available for use within the catchment.

This allocable quantum will need to reflect seasonal and other variations, and the authorisations that are granted in relation to this quantum will need to clearly express the reliability of that water’s availability.

Scarcity thresholds should identify when a catchment is coming under demand pressure and signal the need to shift to a more effective allocation regime.

Once a scarcity threshold has been met, all takes in a catchment should be formally accounted for and existing users (including those operating under permitted activity rules or statutory authorisations to take stock water or water for domestic needs) should be “grand-parented” into the management framework through a process that ensures users get only what they need.

Communities will need to decide, using collaborative planning processes wherever possible, on an appropriate method for allocating water between the scarcity threshold and the limit.

In a context of over-allocation, communities will also need to set policies and timeframes for bringing the total quantity of water-takes into compliance with the limit.

Enabling change

We have emphasised that water management decisions must be transparent and made on the basis of the best available information on their economic, environmental, social and cultural implications – it is not possible to set a limit without understanding what effect it will have on the community and the environment.

Social and ecological systems and their relationships are, of course, very complex and decisions will sometimes need to be made on the basis of incomplete or uncertain information.Where this is the case, areas of uncertainty should be identified and key assumptions should be made transparent so that they can be subject to independent scrutiny.

Capability, capacity and the use of information will be critical issues in implementing changes to water management, particularly in the period when objectives and limits, and the methods and tools to achieve them are being developed.

Investment is required to speed the development of a small number of interoperable models and efforts are required to improve the communication of science to lay audiences and the integration of Mātauranga Māori into our decision-making processes.

All sectors need to invest in the development and implementation of extension programmes to ensure continued and accelerated uptake of good management practice.

Duration and expiry of consents

The investment required to develop and operate large-scale water infrastructure and to change water and land management practices is often significant and complex. To safeguard and enable this investment, water consents need to have clear security of tenure.

The duration and certainty of consents, and the way they are treated on expiry has an influence on investment confidence and, ultimately, the efficiency of water management outcomes.

We believe that, within the water management regime we have recommended, councils should not be able to grant consents for less than 20 years unless an applicant is seeking temporary access to water.

We also believe that longer consent durations could become the norm.

Within three years of implementing the changes recommended by the Forum, there should be a review – conducted in a manner that is consistent with the Forum’s statement on iwi rights and interests in freshwater – on the question of re-issuing consents on expiry and extending beyond 35 years the permissible consent duration for large-scale projects that have been provided for through collaborative planning processes.

Some of us believe that there should be an expectation that the review will lead to change.

National Strategy

The regime we have set out across our three reports will involve a significant change of culture and behaviours in the way we use and manage water in New Zealand.

It will unfold over time, and its benefits will become visible progressively.

Councils and central government will need to work out policy with their communities and to follow transparent decision-making processes.

There will need to be more effective stakeholder engagement in plan making, information will need to be generated shared and communicated differently and those with an interest in freshwater management will need to arrange themselves to participate in catchment-planning processes. All parties will need to take on responsibility for implementing plans, managing within limits and meeting catchment objectives.

Central government has a critical role to play in providing guidance and direction for regional councils, disseminating ‘best practice’ across the water management framework, and providing ways to maintain a sense of momentum and common purpose as the reforms unfold.

Regional authorities will continue to play a key part in water management, including through new roles such as facilitating collaborative catchment processes and acting with central government to share expertise and ensure national consistency.

We suggest that there will also be a role for further collaboration at the national level, in particular for the development of the national direction and guidance recommended in this report.

Throughout our reports we have consistently emphasised the importance of adaptive management. The effect of our recommendations should be monitored and the framework we have proposed should be adjusted if necessary.

We have decided to come back together in July 2013 to discuss the potential nature of the on-going role of the Forum in New Zealand’s freshwater management regime.


The full Report can be downloaded here » (4 MB, .pdf)

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Wheew, so much... so little... Ces't la vie!
We need more regulation, if we could only regulate the regulators, and we'll be right!!