Government releases plans to improve water quality by 2020

The Government has given itself until 2020 to create new rules to stop the "degradation of fresh water", promising a noticeable improvement in water quality in five years.

Cleaning up New Zealand's streams, rivers and lakes was a major issue during the election campaign - and all current Government partners promised to implement a tax on water bottlers.

"New rules will mean controls on the excesses of some intensive land use practices," Environment Minister David Parker said. It will also mean "our remaining wetlands and estuaries will be better protected."

The new rules and standards will be developed by three working groups, one focusing on Maori perspective and interests, as well as a Freshwater Leaders Group and a Science and Technical Advisory Group.

A new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and a new National Environment Standard will be developed.

'No one owns freshwater'

The Government's position is that no one owns freshwater - it belongs to everyone, and we all have a guardianship role to look after it.

But the Government says it also recognises Maori have interests in water rights.

A Cabinet Paper released on Maori/Crown relations acknowledges Maori "aspirations" include governance and decision-making, recognition of iwi/hapu relationship with water bodies and the use of water for economic development.

It says there is a "building sense among Maori that there is no clear path ahead for the Crown's engagement with Maori and addressing Maori rights and interests in freshwater."

The Cabinet paper notes the imposition of a tax on water could have been used to "drive efficient use of water", but the coalition agreement with New Zealand First means Ministers have not considered it further.

The work programme will deliver:

  • Targeted action and investment in at-risk catchments, including accelerating the implementation of Good Farming Practice Principles and identifying options for tree planting through the One Billion Trees programme.
  • A new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management by 2020, to ensure all aspects of ecosystem health are managed, and address risks, for example by providing greater direction on how to set limits on resource use, and better protection of wetlands and estuaries.
  • A new National Environmental Standard for Freshwater Management by 2020, to regulate activities that put water quality at risk, such as intensive winter grazing, hill country cropping and feedlots.
  • Amendments to the Resource Management Act within the next 12 months to review consents in order to more quickly implement water quality and quantity limits; and to strengthen enforcement tools for improving environmental compliance.
  • Decisions on how to manage allocation of nutrient discharges, informed by discussion and engagement with interested parties.
  • Involvement of interested parties in testing and advising on policy options through a network of advisory groups; Kahui Wai Māori, the Science and Technical Advisory Group, and the Freshwater Leaders Group.