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Water and Sustainable Development

Embargoed for check against delivery

Speech Notes: Hon Marian Minister Hobbs, Minister for the Environment
Water 2000 Conference, Carlton Hotel, Auckland, Tues March 21 8.30am

Water and Sustainable Development

Thank you for your very warm welcome. It is most appropriate that I should be speaking to you on the eve of the United Nations designated "World Day for Water".
The theme of your conference is "Guarding the Global Resource ", the UN has chosen "Water for the 21st Century" as its. The UN's objectives is to empower individuals and communities so all have access to safe water and hygienic living conditions and to manage human activities to ensure the conservation both of and quality of freshwater ecosystems. Laudable objectives with which we can all identify.
This afternoon when I'm back in Wellington I'm scheduled to be on the beach at Oriental Bay talking to the media about how we can all help make a difference to water quality. We all need to appreciate that whatever we do on land ends up in the water. We now have a huge amount of knowledge on how to manage land and water . We need to get that information across to the people who make the final decisions on the ground . We need to change behaviours.
In the past we have looked on our environment as a problem that needed to be managed. I would like to present the environment as an opportunity and essential to our future prosperity. I would like to focus on the idea of sustainable development, using water as an example. And I would like to explore how we can bring the environment into the core of policy making.

But first I want to congratulate you on the tremendous work that you and your organisations have done in water management in New Zealand. I think it is important to reflect on the fact that many rivers are probably the cleanest they have been in 100 years. Also that Wellington’s South Coast is now clean and Auckland has plans in place to really improve the Manukau Harbour. These examples occur all over the country. We have made good progress in the last few decades in water management
And the good work goes on. I understand that at this conference there will be a launch of Guidelines for Utilisation of Sewage Effluent onto Land, which the Sustainable Management Fund helped to fund. Tools like these guidelines are essential for good water management.

But we still face considerable challenges in the water area. These challenges are succinctly described in the Ministry for the Environment’s Publication “Making Every Drop Count – a draft National Agenda for Sustainable Water Management”. I am sure you have all read this document from cover to cover, but I will remind you of the priority challenges we face.

The top 6 priorities are in order:
 Firstly, the allocation of water. Water use for irrigation is doubling every 10 years and in some areas of the country allocation systems need to be updated. The situation in Canterbury and Marlborough highlight the increasing significance of this allocation issue. Recently an application for a Water Conservation Order was made for the Rangitata River. I hope we are not starting to see the re-emergence of the conflict between development and conservation in the 1970s and 80s. In Marlborough there is little information on deeper aquifers, yet they are being exploited. Better information will be needed to ensure that there is adequate water for the massive expansion of grapes and other crops reliant on water in the Marlborough Region. Without better information there is a real risk that there may be insufficient water for some land development or there may be impacts on existing water users. And I appreciate that getting information on groundwater is difficult and costly and that in the past central government paid for a lot of this work.
 Secondly, the condition of our lowland streams, particularly our slow flowing streams. Numerous reports have highlighted the poor condition of these streams, particularly those in dairying and urban areas. In fact, in urban areas they have tended not to be called streams. Rather they are seen as drains. Thankfully there are now numerous initiatives to improve these streams such as the stunning examples of community-council partnerships in Christchurch. There are some good initiatives in dairying areas too, but much more needs to be done here and more quickly.
 Thirdly, microbiological contamination, which my officials refer to as Bad Bugs, especially in streams and rivers, but also in groundwater and marine beaches. In our streams and rivers we have found worryingly high levels of pathogens. Campylobacter is a particular issue for New Zealand, both in terms of health statistics and presence of this bacteria in our streams and rivers.
 Fourth, groundwater, in terms of microbiological contamination and the connections between groundwater and surface waters. In some east coast areas abstraction of groundwater can reduce stream flow and this issue is particularly difficult to manage because getting good information on groundwater is not easy.
 Fifth, the condition of our estuaries and harbours, especially in urban areas. I’m told that because many of the Auckland estuaries are so poorly flushed they are very susceptible to toxic contamination. I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the Auckland councils on their efforts to address toxic contamination of the estuaries here. You are facing an enormous challenge and if you successfully meet it, future generations will thank you. This is not a problem that you can hand on. It is a challenge that this generation must face and win.
 Sixth, lakes. Some of our icons are under threat. For example, I understand that intensifying landuse in large areas of Lake Taupo’s catchment, such as conversion to dairying could have devastating effects on water quality in the lake. We need to work hard to ensure that our icon lakes are kept that way – as national icons we are proud of.

Another issue we need to address is the discharge of hazardous contaminants through sewerage systems. Heavy metals, pesticides and other undesirables that we put down our sewers, as trade waste or in our domestic sewage, can cause long term damage to our rivers, streams, estuaries and coast. The presence of these contaminants in sewage can mean that sewage sludge cannot be used for anything other than taking up space in secure landfills.

These are difficult problems to address. We have by and large dealt with the easy ones, such as most industrial discharges. We are now facing problems that existing approaches really do not deal effectively with. We have made the easy won gains in water management. We are now into the hard yards, dealing with issues such as runoff from urban areas and farmland.

To date these issues have been placed firmly in the “problem to be fixed basket”. Solutions have been seen as a constraint to economic growth. I suggest it is time for New Zealand to think about water and the environment in general as a strategic competitive advantage for New Zealand’s prosperity. Let me just run through a few examples of this advantage:
 In how many countries in the world can you confidently drink the tap water? The answer is very few. But in New Zealand we can. And in Christchurch the water is so pure it does not even need treating. This situation is truly wonderful. And we need to keep that way. I think the importance of the fact that you can safely drink tap water all over New Zealand is vastly underrated. It must add considerably to the “Clean Green” image of New Zealand.
 Our waters are a substantial earner of tourist dollars. Last year 1.6 million visitors came here. From whitewater rafting, sport fishing, to swimming at our beaches, our water resources are an integral part of our tourism resources. And tourism is the biggest earner of overseas income for New Zealand. Dried out rivers and perceptions of bad bugs in our waterways will not do our image any good. We need to look after our wonderful water assets, just as we look after any other economic asset.
 Many high profile, small but rapidly growing sectors of the economy are highly reliant on water. Take the wine industry. Water for irrigation is absolutely essential for growing premium quality wine. And it is the premium quality wine we are after. These rapidly expanding areas of the economy are putting new demands on water allocation systems. These industries require precise amounts of water at exact times – substantially different to the “slop it on” approach of the good old border dyke irrigation systems of years gone by.
 Increasingly, our agricultural products are being scrutinised for their clean and green attributes and many sectors trade, explicitly or implicitly, on the fact that we are relatively clean and green. Our meat and dairy products are increasingly marketed using images of green grass and clean, sparkling water. The clean green dimension, such as food safety and food produced without seriously damaging the environment, is becoming increasingly important in niche markets. But water measures are international and water can be used as a yardstick to assess the how clean and green a country is. We need to be sure that we are clean and green and we need to be sure that we can prove it through measuring our waters.

Really, what I am talking about here is the issue of sustainable development. By sustainable development I mean considering social, economic and environmental issues in the same frame. New Zealand is probably best placed of any country in the world to give effect to the concept of sustainable development. We can probably build a considerable amount of our prosperity on a clean-green environment. That is, there may be substantial economic advantages to New Zealand if we go down this sustainable development path. For example the importance of the clean green concept to our overseas trade is increasing rapidly. Fifteen years ago it was barely mentioned. Now my officials estimate that up to 20% of our export earnings, including tourism, are either moderately or highly dependent on the clean green concept. And as overseas markets become more wealthy there will be more proliferation of market niches and more opportunities for New Zealand as a producer of high quality, clean green produce.

Despite the fact that good water management can contribute substantially to our economic prosperity, water management and good environmental practice are still seen as a burden by some sectors of the community. The economist’s solution is to establish property rights which is frequently offered as some sort of nirvana. But for natural waters, international experience shows that it is too hard to establish property rights, except in exceptional circumstances – the information requirements are too onerous.

It can also be difficult to establish effective regulations for water management. Take marine bathing. It would be nice just to have a national water quality standard that all popular bathing beaches had to comply with, so that all New Zealanders and all overseas tourists could be confident that our beaches were safe to swim at. But the reality is more difficult. In some cases huge infrastructure projects are needed that will take years and millions of dollars. In others, catchment management works, such as riparian protection, are needed to protect waterways from rural and urban runoff. These works may take years also. If bathers and other ratepayers were made aware of the state of some of their favourite beaches, there would be a political incentive to upgrade the infrastructure. We think this is a more effective approach than a water quality regulation developed in Wellington. Unfortunately we have become aware of poor quality beaches where the council has not informed the local community of the state of the beach and is unwilling to do so. This situation is unacceptable and I want to see it changed. We are considering requiring councils to inform local communities of the state of their beaches.

So, if economic instruments and regulations are difficult to use, what options are there for achieving agreed water management goals, broader environmental goals and sustainable development as an overall concept? An option in tackling these hard yards that I would like you to think about is the idea of partnerships and compacts. I would like to now explore how the partnership approach, together with other approaches, may help address the priorities identified in the draft National Agenda for Sustainable Water Management.

I appreciate there are real fish hooks with the partnership approach. There have been some conspicuous failures and they may only work in the face of regulation or some other strong incentive. But maybe the economic incentives related to the whole clean green concept are becoming sufficiently strong that they can act as a driver for setting up more effective partnerships.

Let’s start with water allocation. Water is fundamental to development in east coast areas. But it must not become a question of lose-lose between competing uses. Both regional and district councils have a key role in facilitating win-win situations in partnership arrangements with industry, the farming community and environmental interests. In water-short areas there needs to be more effort put into making sure water is used as efficiently as possible and shared fairly. Regional councils may need to do more to help ensure that allocation systems keep up with increasing demand and provide the incentives to users to use water efficiently.

Over the next few years the Ministry for the Environment, together with MAF and in partnership with councils and those with an interest in water management, will be preparing a guide on allocation. Our aim is to provide information for communities and opportunities for dialogue both at the national level and local level. This work will build on some of the partnership approaches being used around the country, such as the water user groups that operate in some areas. This information and dialogue will, it is hoped, facilitate partnership approaches to managing this issue. There are some good examples of good water allocation practices in various parts of the country and my officials will be drawing on these in the preparation of the guide.

And now the lowland streams issue, focusing on rural areas. The dairy industry is starting to take environmental issues quite seriously and I applaud the industry for this. But greater progress is needed on farms. Dairying is rapidly expanding and I am aware of evidence from across New Zealand on the impacts of dairying on these streams. What may be needed is a partnership between the dairy industry, key interest groups and regional councils. And there are some good initiatives happening at the local level, such as landcare groups. An on-farm environmental management system, called EQUAL, is being developed by the dairy industry with the assistance of the Sustainable Management Fund. The question is how can we encourage the proliferation of these partnership approaches? My officials are currently discussing the idea of a partnership with the dairy industry at the national level and I support this initiative. The aim is to provide a framework for assisting the development of partnerships at the local level. As I said earlier, water is something that can be easily measured and used as a benchmark to judge how clean and green a country really is. Can I suggest that in time, possibly sooner rather than later, the dairy industry will have to confront the lowland stream issue, in terms of the perception of overseas markets. And the industry will need help in this. Let’s be proactive in this area. Let’s all sit down and work together to put effective systems in place to manage this problem.

With regard to estuary and harbours and contamination from urban sources, I do not need to come to Auckland and suggest partnership approaches. Water seems to be an issue that really does unite Aucklanders. The cooperation between the councils here on the stormwater issue is impressive and I support your efforts to deal with a very difficult issue. Another good example is the Waikaraka Estuary, part of Tauranga Harbour. Iwi, farmers and lifestyle block owners, the regional council, district council and DoC are all getting together to address the degradation of this estuary. The Landcare Trust is playing the role of facilitator. In these sorts of partnerships I hold great hope for the future.

On the lake issue, again I think we need to look at partnerships. Take Lake Taupo as an example. Landuse edicts could be invoked involving extensive litigation and objections. Or the community there could work together with the common goal of protecting an internationally outstanding lake. Such an approach would be one compatible with the idea of sustainable development. I strongly encourage those involved in the Lake Taupo area to all show the leadership necessary to protect that very important water resource. And as I noted earlier, it may only be the threat of regulation and land use controls that may provide the final incentive for partnerships to be developed in the Taupo catchment.
Partnerships between trade waste generators, sewerage facility operators and councils are important long before waste reaches the environment. People need to work together more to minimise wastes that are not effectively treated by sewage treatment facilities. This could be the only way that we will be able to achieve safe and sustainable use of byproducts like biosolids and safe effluent from sewage treatment plants.
Partnerships can be an effective way of dealing with the difficult water issues we are now facing. This is not to say that regulation does not have its place. Take the disposal of liquid hazardous waste for instance. Reports over the last five years have shown that hazardous waste disposal is not managed particularly well in New Zealand. If partnerships and voluntary management methods don’t improve this situation, it will be necessary to set National Environmental Standards for disposal of hazardous waste.

We need to think about water and the environment differently. For too long we have thought about water and the environment as a problem, as a constraint to development. Something that stood in the way of progress in New Zealand. We need to turn this thinking on its head. We need to think of the environment as one of New Zealand’s strategic opportunities. We need to think about the concept of sustainable development. I put this change of thinking to you as a challenge today and ask you to think through how we can put into effect this paradigm shift that is needed.


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