RMA changes, new ways of allocating discharge and water use rights, a Freshwater Standard - all part of Govt's plan to see cleaner waterways in five years

The Government has announced new rules will be in place by 2020 to better regulate water use and improve the state of the country's waterways.

Environment Minister David Parker promises these will result in a measurable improvement in water quality by 2023.

While he says the Land and Water Forum (an organisation that brings together a range of freshwater and land management stakeholders) couldn’t resolve tensions between existing users and owners of underdeveloped land, he too plans to use a very collaborative approach to shape new rules.

The Government has formed three groups that will be consulted on in the process – Kahui Wai Maori, the Freshwater Leaders Group and the Science and Technical Advisory Group.

All the work will be done through six “work streams” that will:

Amend the Resource Management Act – the main piece of legislation that sets out how we manage our environment.

Changes will be aimed at better enabling regional councils to review consents and more quickly implement water quality and quantity limits. Tweaks will also strengthens enforcement tools.

A bill is expected to be introduced to Parliament at the end of this year or beginning of 2019.

Amend the Freshwater National Policy Statement – a document that sets out how councils should manage freshwater.

Changes may provide greater direction on how to set limits on resource use and provide better protection of wetlands and estuaries.

They may also be an avenue for regulatory change, including around protecting drinking water for example.

Introduce a Freshwater National Environment Standard to provide specific direction on resource use.

Areas to be considered include:

  • Preventing further loss of wetlands and urban streams
  • Mechanisms for managing intensification, including targeting at-risk catchments
  • 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
  • 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

Options for the Standard and Statement will be discussed with Kahui Wai Maori, the Freshwater Leaders Group and the Science and Technical Advisory Group over the next six months.

Public consultation will be held in 2019, before the Standard and Statement are implement in 2020.

Find a way to allocate contaminant discharge and water use rights among competing land users.

The initial focus will be on nitrogen, as this can already be measured at a property level. Principles or processes for allocating nitrogen could then be applied to the allocation of discharges of phosphorous or sediment.

The Government recognises this was an area the Land and Water Forum couldn’t make progress on.

These issues will be discussed and consulted on throughout 2019 and 2020.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor says: “Primary sectors are crucial to an environmentally-sustainable, high-value economy that supports the wellbeing of all New Zealanders. This is why we must grow a sustainable and productive primary sector within environmental limits.”

National is critical of the Government's blueprint. Its Environment spokesperson Scott Simpson says: “This Government talked a big game during the election and made threats against farmers, like suggesting doubling their proposed water tax if farmers criticised them.

“Today’s announcement is just another working group that kicks water issues to touch until 2020. Although it is concerning that ‘coincidentally’ this is when the Government’s Tax Working Group proposals of a series of new environmental taxes would take effect.”

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37 Comments

I'd always unconditionally support any policies to make NZ's water clean and clear.

Good on you. Me too :)

It should include a ban on water bottling for export or a serious tax on it

A separate issue. Not arguing it isn't a worthy point worth discussing but the Waikato and Clutha rivers discharge more water in a few seconds than even the most optimistic bottler could ever dream of bottling.

I’m pretty sure nobody is bottling at the outlet of the Clutha river.

I’m just going to leave this here:

https://crankandloon.wordpress.com/2018/03/19/water-bottling-in-new-zeal...

It outlines the logic for taxing the water bottle and not the water. Should be very popular given the war against plastic packaging.

Why would you do that ?

Tasmania with ample and similar quality water will welcome anyone who wants to export water that would otherwise end up in the sea. Already a large industry over there.

What economic benefits does waterbottling bring?

Same as any other commercial activity?

Except other commercial activities have a much higher labour/resource extraction ratio. Best I can tell, water bottling is highly automated. So, once the factory is set up it creates bugger all jobs while draining our aquifers.

More profit against which tax can be levied. We either get the tax in PAYE or in income tax on the profits.

If you think water bottlers are paying tax in New Zealand you are dreaming.

Do you seriously think any profit will be declared here?
We have to charge for it, after all, they are at the other end.

More profit against which tax can be levied. We either get the tax in PAYE or in income tax on the profits.

So you are seeing more economic benefit, the less efficient it is in terms of inputs vs outputs?

Pretty much. If the profits were going to be taxable in NZ it might be a different story. A high profit/relatively low labour software company. But a low profit/low labour/high resource extraction industry is the pits. From an economic benefit perspective I think high labour costs (high per person employed) are the best. Look at oil and Dutch disease. They are high profit/low labour industries and they kill economies.

Take an example, say a country wanted hand cut rocks from New Zealand. And the people who cut the rocks were to be paid $100,000 per year. And they had to cut the with a little hammer and chisel. That would be great even though the extraction is inefficient.

If I have something somebody else wants I can either:

(a) give it to them for free

Or

(b) charge them for the use.

Why would we give water bottlers the water for free? You might argue because if we charge them they will leave. Well, have we tested that proposition?

They might leave? Good

If they are to be charged for it, so should everybody else be. Otherwise you are distorting economic signals and may be encouraging water towards less efficient uses

In theory yes. In practice I think it’s more pragmatic to deal with the water bottling issue in isolation. That is why I recommended a small tax on plastic bottles. It captures some economic benefit and we can all move on. As I said, pragmatic.

I agree with that but you would have to word your law for the tax in such a way that regardless of how that water was transported away that it is to be assumed that it will end up in a plastic bottle. And I wouldn't make the charge that small. IMHO the plastic bottle issue is just as important, maybe more right now, than the water itself

Ms de...try exporting coal or gold or green stone any other thing and see if you get it for free???

Well it provides the world with more plastic bottles that it is so desperately short of.

“This Government talked a big game during the election and made threats against farmers, like suggesting doubling their proposed water tax if farmers criticised them."
I'd like to see some evidence to back this claim up. Regardless , surely they can make a more thoughtful opposition statement, that may address farmers concern than this.

You'd always support any policies unconditionally?

Fine - my policy is that xing and Jamin should each give up your entire respective wealths, including selling your houses, in order for me to fund (first) the clean-up of the stream that runs through my property, and then if there's any money left, the stream that runs through my local park and the one that discharges onto my local beach. I will let you have my bank account details for the purpose.

I look forward to hearing from you

I am 100% sure there are technologies available for dairy farmers to neutralize their farm run offs.

Soft policies are the key contributing factor to the deteriorating water quality in NZ.

There certainly are various things that dairy farmers and indeed others who contribute to NZ's water quality problems could do, and indeed have been doing, and there certainly is more that can be done.

But that's not what you said before. You said you'd support any policy, not just ones that are effective, efficient and fair.

The world is so messed up that they have to transport water from one side of the planet to other? Yet hardly a murmur about this state of the environment.

And we export plastic bottles! Bulk tankers if we must,but plastic bottles...really fits in with 100% pure NZ huh?

I was once walking across a bridge in the countryside and I looked down and there was one of those single wire moveable fences going through it. Basically the farmer was so brazen about moving his cattle though the stream for the daily milking that he didn’t even take down the fence afterwards to pretend he wasn’t doing it.

I was once walking across a bridge in the countryside and I looked down and there was one of those flocks of waterfowl, happily excreting copiously in the water with nary a thought given to Downstream Users. They were so brazen about it that they didn't even look up at me, just carried on without even trying to pretend they weren’t doing it.

..yeah but you can shoot the waterfowl. Maybe we should have a season on cows?

They were all whio....taonga - good luck...

And were there fences just down and up river of them, keeping them in one space, and over those fences more flocks of waterfowl?

It's illegal for livestock to be in public waterways. it's not enforced though and farmers - not the most scrupulous bunch - break the rules brazenly, hence the deplorable state of our water.

But salt of the earth blokes though. Back bone of the country. Oh it's not raining won't somebody please think of the farmers etc etc

@ Waymad - what a pointless comment.

You know cows shit about 7x more than humans (and presumably 100x more than a bird), meaning we have the equivalent of 70 million people in NZ. Almost all of that waste is untreated - and people wonder why our natural environment is rapidly decaying.

Meanwhile some super smart folks read 1 article on the internet and want to ban chlorination as well as vaccination. Death wish much?

waymad,

have you done any work on the difference in effluent production between a herd of cattle and a flock of ducks?

Your point is amusing,but I rather doubt if the 2 are equivalent.

The current NPS already requires that;

Objective A2
The overall quality of fresh water within a freshwater management unit is maintained or improved
while:
a) protecting the significant values of outstanding freshwater bodies;
b) protecting the significant values of wetlands; and
c) improving the quality of fresh water in water bodies that have been degraded by human
activities to the point of being over-allocated.

Meantime, the most effective thing this government could do is enforce the existing law - any waterbodies within a council's jurisdiction that have continued to degrade since this NPS came into force are in breach of the RMA. Time central government started enforcement action - firstly abatement notices with a period to fix (say 3 months). If water quality continues to worsen, financial penalties would apply. The regional council's that are responsible can then levy a targeted rate on those failing to improve leaching/discharges.

The time for action is now. The existing legislation is good enough to make improvements, or at the very least halt further degradation.

By all means, do more to improve the legislation - but meantime, just enforce what you have.