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Water will be the Major Development Issue for NZ

Media Release

13th October 2006

Water will be the Major Development Issue for New Zealand this Decade

Speaking to the New Zealand Water and Wastes Association Conference in Christchurch today, Peter Neilson, the Chief Executive of The New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development ("the Business Council") said that the availability and quality of fresh water was the major development issue for New Zealand this decade.

Business Council polling has shown that having access to safe drinking water, a place to fish and go swimming, were iconic values for a New Zealander. At the same time increasing competition for water use from agriculture and other industries was placing stress on the current first come first served fresh water allocation system.

The Business Council has established a Fresh Water Management Project to address these issues and provide practical solutions. All major water interests were represented on the project working group including agriculture, horticulture, irrigators, generators, Maori, industry alongside environmental, tourism and recreational user interests. Municipal water interests were also included on the project team.

After the initial two meetings several themes are emerging. There is widespread concern about:

• A lack of key information on water, such as its flows, quality, measurement of its use;
• Current processes which appear to allow over allocation to occur which threaten both investment security and the environment;
• Major issues with managing non-point discharges;
• Variability of performance in fresh water management across the country;
• Minimal use being made of transferability provisions to enable water to move to its highest value use;
• Over allocation preventing the entry of new water users that may provide a higher value use;
• Difficulties in establishing a robust priority of users where current planning processes are used for allocation of water;
• Uncertainty about procedures to manage back over allocations.

There is an emerging view that there would be value in splitting the management of fresh water into a "permit to use" which would manage the effects of how water is used (quality of returns, nutrients, heavy metals, temperature etc, cumulative effects) and "right to take" based around a percentage of the available flow. A "right to take" would cover issues such as the point of the take, the quality of the take, the location, time and quantity of the return as well as the duration of the right and the transferability conditions.

Any of these unbundling proposals will require much improved information about our fresh water resources, particularly in those catchments or water systems where over allocation has occurred or is threatened. Politically managed processes for allocating natural resources are invariably biased towards over allocation. In the words of the song "we don't know what we've got till it's gone".

Work will continue on these complex issues and if broad agreement can be found for a future direction then a transition plan will be prepared to assist decision makers at central and regional government levels. Our timetable is to crystallise some views by the end of this year and to produce an accessible guide the proposals during 2007.

We plan to keep the politicians from all parties and their advisers informed as we proceed to see if we can build widespread support for proposals that enable New Zealand to continue growing while preserving our quality of life including our environment.

The draft Charter for the project can be found at http://www.nzbcsd.org.nz/story.asp?id=693 along with the presentation made today at the conference.

ENDS

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