The Government announced national standards for freshwater yesterday that Environment Minister Amy Adams & Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said were clear, robust and would make a significant improvement to the way freshwater is managed.
Environmental Defence Society chairman Gary Taylor said setting national bottom lines for some freshwater quality parameters was a significant step forward, but the society remained concerned whether the detail would in fact lead to the water quality improvements New Zealanders are demanding.
Ms Adams said: “Ensuring an ongoing & reliable supply of healthy water is one of the most important environmental & economic issues facing New Zealand today. It is critical that we protect & improve the water quality that we all care so much about.”
And Mr Guy said the changes balanced economic growth with environmental sustainability: “It’s not an either-or situation – we need both. Primary industries contribute more than 76% of our merchandise exports and largely depend on freshwater, while tourism also relies on the beauty of New Zealand’s water bodies.
“We all want sustainable & profitable primary industries. That will mean changes to some of our farming practices, but I know farmers are up for the challenge.”
The national objectives framework under the amended national policy statement for freshwater management requires rivers & lakes to have minimum requirements that must be achieved so the water quality is suitable for ecosystem & human health.
Ms Adams said: “In 2011, the Government required councils to maintain or improve the water quality in their lakes, rivers, wetlands & aquifers across their region. If their water quality is already above the national standard, it cannot be allowed to deteriorate. However, where a water body currently falls below the national standard, councils & communities will need to ensure that the standard is met over sensible & realistic timeframes.”
She said she was considering applications from regional councils for $1.1 million of funding for activities that support regional planning & community participation in freshwater management, and decisions would be announced soon.
The Government also released a high-level snapshot yesterday of the freshwater reform programme, Delivering freshwater reform.
Taylor: Framework omissions mean more litigation
The Environmental Defence Society chairman said the creation of a national objectives framework was a key recommendation of the Land & Water Forum: “Submitters said they wanted to be able to swim in lakes & rivers close to where they live. However, the national policy statement includes a new objective to ‘safeguard the health of people & communities, at least as affected by secondary contact with fresh water’.
“This means there is no national requirement for lakes & rivers to be swimmable because secondary contact is limited to wading. This means communities will need to fight for the right to swim in local lakes & rivers. Instead of giving New Zealanders certainty, this means we will have to continue to engage in litigation.”
The society was also concerned the national objectives framework didn’t provide national bottom lines consistent with the national policy statement objective of safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of freshwater bodies: “The macro-invertebrate index (MCI, a measure of invertebrates living in rivers) is the best way to measure ecosystem health. Despite cross-sector agreement in the Land & Water Forum on the need to include MCI, ministers appear to have vetoed its inclusion in the national objectives framework.
“The framework puts in place a national bottom line for nitrogen toxicity. This is a big problem. The board of inquiry which recently heard the Tukituki catchment proposal rejected proposed nitrogen toxicity limits, deciding that dissolved inorganic nitrogen limits are required to maintain ecosystem health. This is the case throughout New Zealand.
“The inclusion of a national bottom line for nitrogen toxicity means there is a risk regional councils will view this as an appropriate limit. We are going to have to argue for nitrogen limits that will achieve ecosystem health in each freshwater planning process. Instead of providing certainty, this omission means we will have to continue to engage in litigation.
“There are a number of Land & Water Forum recommendations still to be implemented, including a new collaborative freshwater plan-making process. Unfortunately, legislation to implement collaborative plan-making has been held up due to the Government’s fixation on amending part 2 of the Resource Management Act.”
Attribution: Ministerial & EDS releases.