Water Reform Proposals ‘Clean Water’ 2017

The Proposed Water Reforms  "Clean Water" consultation

In late February, Ministers Smith and Guy announced the next round of proposed water reforms.  The consultation document on the proposals is the latest phase of the Government’s freshwater reforms that started with the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPSFM) in 2011. 

The package has five main elements: 

A proposed target that 90% of rivers (Identified in Appendix 2) and lakes (over 1500m of shoreline) be swimmable by 2040
Proposed changes to the National Policy Statement – Freshwater Management
Proposed new regulations on stock exclusion from waterways;
Collation and provision of better information and maps; and
A call for applications for the Freshwater Clean-up Fund; 

Key areas for our members include the swimmability targets, changes to the NPSFM, and proposed rules around stock exclusion. These proposals will have significant implications for the primary sector and Federated Farmers is currently undertaking a detailed analysis of the proposals and will seek feedback over the coming weeks.  

1 - Swimmable Targets

The most significant change is the requirement that 90% of all waterways nationally within a set criteria be swimmable by 2040. 

A ‘traffic light’ approach has been introduced, based upon the percentage of time a waterway is below an E. coli threshold. For a waterway to be swimmable it must not exceed the E. coli threshold more than 20 percent of the time. 
Currently 72% of identified waterways are specified as being swimmable. To meet the targets of 80% by 2030 and 90% by 2040, councils between themselves will determine how this will be achieved on a national basis. Federated Farmers is concerned that this may result in ‘horse trading’ with winners and losers resulting.

Federated Farmers agrees that those waterways valued for swimming should be swimmable during swimming season. A concern is that the rivers identified within the government’s proposals relate to size, and not their appropriateness or value for swimming or other recreation. 

2 - Other changes to the National Policy Statement -Freshwater Management [NPS-FM]

Government is also proposing a series of amendments to the NPSFM to clarify and assist in its implementation. These amendments include:
Requiring regional councils to consider swimming at all points of the objective and limit-setting process in plan development;
Requiring regional councils to monitor macroinvertebrates (basically bug and insect life) in appropriate rivers and streams as part of the assessment of ecosystem health and respond if monitoring suggests the freshwater objectives are not being met; 
Limiting the concept of the ‘maintain and improve’ principle to make it clear that this is at a freshwater management unit level (usually a catchment or sub catchment)  rather than at a regional level;
Managing nitrogen and phosphorus through the establishment of objectives for in-stream concentrations of P and N as part of managing for periphyton (algae and ‘slime’) growth;
Requiring councils to consider the community’s economic and social well-being when making decisions on water quantity, the pace of water quality improvements and when establishing freshwater objectives;
Providing for the identification and recognition of Infrastructure that provides for economic wellbeing of communities, when setting and managing to freshwater outcomes, including providing for cases where the environmental bottom lines can be breached when the infrastructure contributes to degraded water quality.
Further clarification on the meaning of Te Mana o Te Wai and requirement of regional councils to consider Te Mana o Te Wai when giving effect to the Freshwater NPS

3 - Stock Exclusion

In line with a 2014 election promise, Minister Smith is seeking to introduce far reaching regulations to exclude stock from waterways. The proposals, even for dairy farmers  (particularly West Coast farmers), could have significant cost implications. While the proposals are limited to cattle (beef and dairy), deer and pigs on flatter land initially, they will eventually apply to all land up to 15 degrees and to all land if break feeding. The proposal includes a timetable for the various stock types, including deadlines for when stock on various slopes of land must be excluded from specified waterways (ranging from 1 July 2017 to 1 July 2025). Importantly it is stock exclusion, not necessarily fencing that is required.  The specific conditions and dates of the proposal are shown in the table below:  

4- Better Information

Federated Farmers supports the requirement to provide better information to communities on the state and quality of waterways within each region. Generally, councils struggle to provide sufficient, fit for purpose and robust information on which to make informed decisions on the management of their waterways. Such information must however, must be relevant to what is being sought. For example, if more detailed information is to be provided on whether a waterway is swimmable, the data used to determine whether this is the case needs to be collected from the point in the waterway that people swim.

5- Freshwater Clean Up Fund

Applications are now open to apply to the $100 million Freshwater Clean-up Fund. Federated Farmers is concerned that the minimum request for funding has to be $200,000 as this could rule out smaller catchment based initiatives.

 Federated Farmers is currently undertaking a detailed analysis of the proposals set out in the Clean Water Document and will be seeking your feedback on these matters over the coming weeks. Submissions on the proposed water reforms close at 5.00pm on Friday 28 April 2017.

For further details on the proposals and the relevant documents please see the Ministry for the Environment's Website here or the Clean Water document to the right.  

Federated Farmers Position

Myth – NZ has terrible water quality and urgent action is required
Reality the Quality of 80% of our fresh water is stable or improving but ongoing effort and improvements are required, especially in the hotspots

Myth – It is mostly farmers fault -
Reality – all sectors are culpable: residential, industrial, farmers, and wild animals  

Myth – The system is broken, and dairy cows must go.
Reality - Progress is being made and we have the tools to make further improvements - locally facts based catchment  solutions have the best chance of working

Federated Farmers has an S.P.A. (Sensible, Practical, Affordable) approach on water quality issues, and we take the same line with the government’s recent ‘Clean Water’ announcements. Federated Farmers is currently undertaking a detailed analysis of the proposals set out in the Clean Water Document and will be seeking your feedback on these matters over the coming weeks.

For further details on the proposals and the relevant documents please see the Ministry for the Environment's Website here or the Clean Water document to the right.


For more information

Cathy Begley
Senior Policy Advisor (Water & Environment)   
M: 021 242 6586
E:  cbegley@fedfarm.org.nz  

Chris Allen
Environment/RMA/ Water Spokesperson
M: 021 251 0016
E: callen@fedfarm.org.nz