Discussion wanted on water
Proposed national water standards are being opened up for debate by the Government. Environment Minister Amy Adams and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy released proposals for improving freshwater management, including the standards, last week.
Ms Adams said a reliable supply of healthy water was one of the most important environmental and economic issues New Zealanders faced.
The freshwater reform framework was designed to give communities more tools and guidance so they could make better decisions on managing water, she said.
‘‘It says this is what we know now, so let us stop arguing about it and get on with finding a better way of managing this valuable resource for the future,’’ she said.
Mr Guy said managing New Zealand’s most important resource would work only if everyone worked together.
Public feedback is being sought on proposed amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.
A discussion document sets out a framework to:
Support communities setting freshwater objectives.
Give more weight to Maori values for fresh water.
Set ecosystem and human health as compulsory values in regional plans.
Require councils to account for all water takes and contaminant discharges.
Set national bottom lines for ecosystem and human health that apply almost everywhere.
Allow for some exceptions to bottom lines where poor water quality is from a historical, structural (dam) or natural source such as a bird colony.
More than 60 freshwater scientists have put numbers on the bottom lines for freshwater. These thresholds have been tested with some water users to make sure they are practical.
Among other obligations, councils will be required to identify levels of E. coli, periphyton, nitrate, ammonia and dissolved oxygen as well as sediment, heavy metals, pH, temperature, and insect and fish life.
Ms Adams said councils would still have to maintain or improve water quality as a minimum but a safety net was proposed for national bottom lines for ecosystem and human health.
Mr Guy said the Government expected people to debate the bottom lines.
‘‘If we can get agreement now, there will be less arguing and litigation over regional plans and resource consent applications.
‘‘It will give people more certainty about what is allowed and what is not, and all this will save time and money,’’ he said.
Farmers have welcomed the science and the community-based approach of the reforms.
Federated Farmers environment spokesman Ian Mackenzie said the proposals presented a significant change in how communities would plan for water.
He said the framework provided an accounting system for measuring water quantity and quality, and would reduce much of the subjective emotion in water talks.
Setting standards scientifically, culturally and economically for the first time would not be easy and would need some sacrifice from agriculture, and also urban communities as some of the most polluted waterways were in towns and cities, he said.
‘‘The thing about the proposed amendments is that it introduces the concept of time. Many issues may have taken decades to build and may take decades to resolve.
‘‘I can confidently say New Zealand’s primary industries are up for this challenge.’’