Government finalises first stage of freshwater policy

The Government has finalised the first stage of an action plan to improve water quality and the way freshwater is managed.

Announcing the move, Environment Minister Amy Adams and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy pointed to the Government release of a discussion document in March based on the recommendations of the Land and Water Forum and which gave effect to their core recommendations.

The document outlined a clear path of reform ahead that will be addressed through a comprehensive and measured approach, starting this year.

The first stage of those reforms have now been finalised by Cabinet.

A new freshwater collaborative planning option will be created which will give communities and iwi a greater say in planning what they want for their local waterways and how they should be managed.

“This means that rather than a council drafting a plan and then asking for comment, a representative group of stakeholders drawn from the community will be able to work together on a plan,” say the Ministers.

“Getting agreement upfront in the planning process will mean fewer debates and less litigation further down the track, which will ultimately save time and money, and lead to better overall outcomes.”

The Government will not be compelling councils to choose a collaborative approach, however feedback on the freshwater proposals showed there is significant support for this method.

The Government has also decided to improve the way in which iwi/Māori engage in freshwater planning, no matter whether councils decide to choose the collaborative option or the existing process.

Over the years ahead, the Government will work closely with regional councils to provide guidance and other support to help them implement the changes.

Based on feedback received during consultation, it has been decided not to progress plans to review how Water Conservation Orders work with regional planning.

Other parts of the immediate steps for the freshwater reforms include the creation of a National Objectives Framework (NOF) and better water accounting. It is the Government’s intention to make legislative amendments to facilitate the introduction of a National Objectives Framework.

Other reforms in the freshwater package will be tackled over the next few years. These include:

  • Rules and tools to support the improved planning system and the National Objectives Framework
  • A review of the Water Research Strategy across the whole of Government
  • National direction and guidance on accounting for sources of contaminants and the use of models for nutrient budgeting
  • National guidance on dealing with over-allocation, transition issues, and compliance and enforcement; and
  • More work on allocation of water on expiry of permits, the transfer and trade of water, and incentives for efficient water use

“The key tenet of the Government’s freshwater reform programme is that improving our water management system will require solutions that start now and build over the long-term. There is no quick fix,” the Ministers say.

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