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Water And Wastes Assn Conference - Hobbs Speech

28 June 2001 Hon Marion Hobbs Speech Notes

NZ Water And Wastes Assn Conference, Carlton Hotel Auckland 9am Thurs 28 June

So - what’s it all about

New Zealanders are basically a bunch of townies. Our towns and cities are home to 85% of us. New Zealand is one of the most urbanised societies in the world.

Now to us urbanites, the word “stormwater” conjures up images of great gushing floods with people boating down the streets and pieces of flotsam and jetsam drifting past our front doors. Historically, this flooding was the focus of stormwater management. That is, how to get it out of town quickly and with as little disruption as possible. It was an issue of volume and flow, of too much water too fast; and of polluted water, stinking and causing disease.

To remind us of how far we’ve have come, listen to this short quote from a turn of the century report on Auckland:

Into this area ¡K a portion of a cemetery drained. An open sewer, which was choked with filth, encircles more than half the catchment area. Draining into this creek was a considerable number of piggeries and Chinamen’s houses of the usual unsavoury description that obtains in most large towns.”

Our urban ancestors wanted to get rid of this annoying water rushing off our roofs and roads (because it couldn’t soak into the ground). Planners and engineers attacked the flood flows by using lovely big pipes. Much better. Divert the water, as well as the urban streams, into pipes and then into the sea or a stop banked river and the problem has all gone. Out of sight, out of my suburb.

How times change. Now we realise that those lovely big pipes haven’t fixed the problem, they’ve just shifted it.

We’ve realised that there is more to stormwater than just water from storms. It’s a fabulous cocktail telling us a story about where it’s been - trickling along roads coated in oil and brake lining dust, rushing past curbs where people have washed their cars, or sloshed out their paint cans, nipping by hosed down industrial sites, a quick run by a new development picking up a bit of top soil along the way, and of course full of cigarette butts!

We’ve realised that we value our beaches. We’ve realised that the critters in streams aren’t as keen on pipes as they are streams, and that we quite like streams with things living in them. We’ve started to realise that there might be more to a city than people living disconnected lives in disconnected boxes. That is, what we do impacts on our environment, and that in turn impacts on our lives and livelihoods.

We know (now) that people are part of the solution, and that just like raindrops - maybe one isn’t going to make that much of a difference, but many can.

So, we take up the challenge of not just realising this, but wanting to do something about it. And it is a challenge isn’t it? It means integrated management. Shifting our focus beyond the end of the pipe and up to the places where that raindrop manages to pick up a bit of speed and a few friends along the way.

We’ve talked about integrated catchment management a lot over the past few years. I’m not entirely sure that we are any more clear on how to do it, but at least we’ve started talking.

What does integrated mean to me: it’s the concept of a water cycle, like the Waitakere City Council Water Cycle Strategy. It means connections between people, the council, it’s the infrastructure managers, the information loops - social, economic and environmental connections

My Vision

Okay. We all know why we are here. Now I want to talk about bigger picture, my vision for the environment and where stormwater management fits in. I’ll then return to the challenges we face in stormwater management.

As Minister for the Environment I have worked with the Ministry for the Environment over the last 18 months or so on some initiatives that will motivate individuals and communities to take action.

I want now to talk about my vision and about my priorities to:

Make our clean, green image a reality in our cities, towns and rural places.

As I’ve said before, I think New Zealanders want relatively simple things, such as being able to swim at a clean beach, to see the horizon on a clear day and to live in liveable cities. Unfortunately many people do not recognise that these things are under threat, or if they do, are daunted by the increasingly complex solutions or the need to limit their own expectations (such as curbing coastal subdivision). They see environment as "over there" in, for example, a national park but not in their backyard.

My vision, therefore, acknowledges the gap between New Zealand’s clean green image and its somewhat clean, still green around the edges reality. I want to use that acknowledgement as the first step towards motivating change. And I want to involve all New Zealanders in working on the solutions. I want us all to be the heroes of this story, or else we fail!

Unless we get people to recognise the threat to the things in the environment that they value we will not get purchase on the problems. It is not about halting the good work already under way but about doing more, faster - and developing new innovative strategies for our more intractable problems.

At the recent SoE conference “information for motivation” I outlined six broad objectives to make this vision a reality: The first, and I think the most relevant to the discussions at this conference, is to motivate and empower people to own the problems and the solutions.

My approach is partnership underpinned by strong government leadership. It is not a return to centralisation.

I am also saying that we need to move beyond the "end of the pipe" mentality to policies that decouple environmental damage from economic growth. That is, we need to move to smart growth; where we grow without the environmental damage.

To date I have deliberately focussed much of the Ministry for the Environment’s work programme on practical action rather than some of the bigger questions, such as, are the current policies and institutions delivering the Labour-Alliance overall goals for the environment? Fifteen years on from the major institutional changes that set up the Ministry for the Environment and the Department of Conservation etc, 10 years on from when the RMA commenced and in the lead up to the World Summit on Sustainable Development (Johannesburg September 2002), I believe it is now time to review our overall progress.

In the longer term I have asked the Ministry to review four strategic areas over the next year:

- Performance and monitoring : I want to know how we monitor environmental results and performance of local and central government agencies with the aim of providing incentives to councils and other agencies to meet the governments overall environmental objectives;

- Community Action: I will review how we promote environmental awareness and action in the community; so that we can set up new long term communication and education programmes.

- Business innovation and bio-economy: I will create new approaches to business environmental innovation and seek alliances with key sectors who are willing to embrace sustainable development; (eg the dairy industry)

- Environmental legislation and institutions: I want better integrated management water and waste under the RMA and HSNO (and I am willing to go "up the pipe" to achieve this rather than stick slavishly to environmental effects); reduced litigation and alternative dispute resolution; new mechanisms for promoting national policy, consistency and standards; and alternative institutional models that will improve capacity and leadership at the national level.

The previous government had a "level playing field" approach. I want to tip the playing field in favour of the clean, green players.

We need to move beyond the "end of the pipe" mentality to policies that decouple environmental damage from economic growth. “What does that mean?” It means not assuming that economic growth will always harm the environment. It means smart growth that protects our environment while improving our economy. If we come up with more intelligent designs for industrial processes, for example, that result in less waste, more efficient use of materials and less energy consumed in the process, then that’s smart technology that we can export. A little Kiwi ingenuity can go a long way.

But I do not accept that central government is better placed than local councils to determine the most appropriate responses to local situations.

In fact local decision-making is one of the principles of Agenda 21. If you don’t trust local government, why trust central government? Isn't it about democracy? Isn't it about getting the appropriate people elected onto councils? Isn't it about having more politicians understanding and acting on the issues you care about?

As you probably know, I was a teacher for many years. And as a teacher, I know that you cannot force people to learn, or force them to change behaviour. You get those changes using a variety of methods.

I believe that the best way forward, as with almost all issues which could involve conflict, is by engaging people rather than confronting them or pushing rules and regulations down their throats.

So, let’s return to the issue of stormwater.

There are some thorny issues surrounding stormwater. I see some muddying of the roles between the different players. Questions now rising to the surface include:

- Who’s responsible for what?

- Who controls what goes into the pipe

- What kinds of controls can be imposed on what is discharged out of the pipe

- What mechanisms should be used to control contamination entering stormwater pipes.

Cities in New Zealand have hundreds, sometimes thousands of kilometres of water supply pipes, stormwater pipes, and sewerage pipes, water treatment plants, wastewater treatment plants, pumping stations. I’ve been told that this infrastructure is worth around six billion dollars.

This infrastructure has a limited life. And most cities are growing, some very rapidly. Many cities have not kept up with the maintenance and replacement needed. In places, this infrastructure is struggling to cope.

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s report “Beyond Ageing Pipes”, released in April this year, identified four major areas of challenge and made recommendations to address these. Two of the challenges revolve around water management roles, and the legislation that underpins these. The others relate to the community, and I mean the community in the widest meaning of the word, awareness and understanding of water, and integrated management of water. The PCE’s report identified that “reaching consensus between the various water management stakeholders on the environmental, social and economic goals of urban water systems as one of the biggest challenges for achieving progress in this area.”

You can draw an interesting analogy between our practises in integrated catchment management and the treatment and prevention of coronary heart disease. Heart disease is degenerative. It arises from individual decisions we make every day, such as what we choose to eat or whether we exercise or smoke. In response to these decisions we may stress our body out so that it suffers, and ¡K..fails. The symptoms may take years to present themselves, by which time they are difficult and expensive to treat. And the strange thing is that even though doctors tell us that smoking and over-eating are bad for us, they are hard habits to break. They require motivation (heart attacks are quite motivating if you live through them) and changes in behaviour.

See the similarities? It seems to me that several cities are experiencing the pain of angina, as their clogged stormwater systems struggle and occasionally burst. While many cities are undergoing the equivalent of triple bypasses, I wonder how much city dwellers are changing their lifestyles. Are we still pouring the same wastes into our systems? Are we reconsidering our lifestyles, the way we manage our urban catchments?

Like a triple bypass, changes to our stormwater plumbing are expensive. But innovative practises can be cheaper. Dudley Stream, in Christchurch, was a nasty, smelly, rat infested open drain. The cost and performance of a large pipeline was investigated and the idea quashed. Instead the Council created a waterway with native plants and stable banks to provide a habitat and an attractive feature in the community. To cap it all off, it was cheaper than a pipe.

The trick with stormwater is to “think whole ecosystems”, or holistic management. We need to consider matters such as the sedimentation effects on habitats and the toxic effects of stormwater on biodiversity and how to reduce these impacts, and the potential to convert piped drains into more natural conveyance streams. It’s really encouraging to see that many of the issues I’ve touched on here are being discussed at the conference, along with the sharing of ideas and experiences in testing solutions.

So, who’s in charge?

Undoubtedly, central and local government politicians and scientists do have an important role to play. But if we left it all to government and high-powered scientists we would never get consensus or enough certainty to get started. And don’t be fooled into thinking that tinkering with the Resource Management Act will solve everyone’s problems. There is more to environmental management than the RMA! So we can’t leave it just to central and local government and scientists - we need everyone involved.

What about the regulatory regime that controls this industry? In short, it’s complicated. There’s the Local Government Act, the Health Act, the Resource Management Act involving district and city councils, regional councils, local authority trading enterprises, and health authorities.

The Government has recognized that a more enabling Local Government Act is necessary if local government is to meet the needs of its communities and deliver sustainable local development, and as you all know, the Act is under review.

The Government’s broad objectives for the review of the LGA are to develop a new statute which:

- reflects a coherent overall strategy on local government

- will involve a move to a more broadly empowering legislative framework under which local authorities can meet the needs of their communities

- involves the development of a partnership relationship between central and local government

- clarifies local government’s relationship with the Treaty of Waitangi.

Current proposals are that city and district council responsibilities include the management of infrastructure (roading and transport, sewerage, water and stormwater), and that they incorporate in their long-term plans an assessment of services including drinking water, drainage, waste management, storm water, solid waste, waste disposal and other functions.

The review of the Local Government Act is an important opportunity for you to have an input into the future shape of local government in our country. You have until 30 August 2001 to express your views.

RMA functions will not change under the LGA review. I note that consents for many stormwater systems will expire this coming October, as their authorizations predated the Water and Soil Conservation Act. I hope you take this opportunity to review where the management of stormwater systems is heading.

We all have a role to play - individuals, community groups, pressure groups, local government, scientists, planners, journalists, central government. But we need the motivation and the understanding to play those roles - or no player will act. We need to talk to, and listen to, each other.

I would like to say here that I believe most decisions about urban water management are best made at a local level with community input. Local government is in a central position to respond to its local constituency. It has to weigh up competing interests. A range of environmental values has to be considered.

I have not forgotten the role of central government. There is a clear national interest in urban water management, especially in achieving outcomes in health. I believe there should be minimum standards for environmental quality below which, we, as a nation, should not fall.

We need to move beyond the "end of the pipe" mentality. At the moment we look at the effects of the discharge instead of examining whether we should have the discharge itself. Instead of just controlling stormwater discharge quality and quantity, let's also focus on what’s going on at the source, in the urban catchments. To prevent these contaminants from getting in the pipes in the first place. To prevent run-off becoming a problem.

We are starting to see the emergence of partnership relationships. The Water and Waste Association and the Ministry for the Environment (with the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment) recently facilitated a workshop of key players in the urban water sector to discuss issues associated with urban water management and means to address them.

The Water and Waste Association has commissioned consultants to undertake a needs analysis of territorial and regional councils in the area of comprehensive catchment planning for stormwater quality control. It’s great to see WWA taking the bull by the horns and driving us towards a better understanding of the barriers to comprehensive catchment management.

What is happening around the country?

Infrastructure Auckland’s annual plan acknowledges that stormwater plays a key part in determining the health of Auckland’s harbours and streams. It recognises the importance of a regionally integrated approach to improving stormwater quality. The desired outcome for stormwater is that

“Water quality in and around the region is preserved or enhanced to enable the people of the region to enjoy greater:

- Access to freshwater and marine environments;

- Heath and safety

- Economic prosperity.

$100 Million has been granted to projects towards that objective. Stirring stuff!

The Auckland Region Water, Stormwater, and Wastewater Review has Auckland, Manukau, Waitakere, North Shore, Papakura and Rodney Councils working together. They recognise that there is considerable scope across their region to plan and provide these services in a better way.

An example of being proactive before the issue becomes a monster is illustrated in Hawkes Bay, where the Napier city council and the Hawkes Bay Regional Council are jointly producing catchment management plans for urban drainage areas. This process in itself is helping to sort out many of the issues that a lot of councils around the country are facing, particularly with respect to statutory responsibilities.

Among the many stormwater initiatives Auckland City has adopted is the safeswim website which tells people up front if their urban beaches can be polluted, and how this happened. It also gives tips on how they can take responsibility and do their bit toward making the beaches cleaner. Gearing people up with information is empowering.

I applaud the innovative approach that Waitakere City is taking with its water cycle strategy. This recognises that water supply, wastewater and stormwater are all components of the water cycle that we live in, and that we need to use an approach to managing them which makes optimal use of the operation of natural systems. This can achieve the dual benefit of saving money while enhancing the environment in which we live.

North Shore City Council has developed a stormwater education and communication strategy, recognising that the community’s expectations don’t match with its understanding of the issues around stormwater. The strategy is an effort to get the community to recognise that they are part of the problem, and to give them the tools to get out there and do something about it.

Other exciting initiatives? Last year I attended the launch of Wai Care in Auckland. You Aucklanders will know Wai Care inside out. To those of you that haven’t heard of it I say “check it out - it’s on the web”. Wai Care empowers communities to work together for healthy catchments. This creates communities who are actively caring for their own environments.

And down south: Waimakariri District Council has created a great package as part of its Stormwater Project that emphasises the positives of holistic management of stormwater

And there is a stunning example of community-council partnership in Christchurch with their Waterways Enhancement Programme. This is my old home patch so I can be a little bit parochial. Christchurch City Council has a lovely web site that shows people in the community working on stream restoration. They give the example of Kirkwood Intermediate School working with the council to restore the old Ilam drain. To me those kids are going to grow up with a permanent connection with, and understanding of what it means to be an urbanite living as a critter in an ecosystem. The Waterways Enhancement Programme have also produced a 10-minute video that explains the benefits of waterway enhancement, and encourages people to care for their local streams, creeks and drainage channels.

How do we measure change? How do we know what we’re doing is right? Or enough?

Some aspects of the management solutions for stormwater may be costly. Management solutions for stormwater may have to be in place for a long time before improvements are noticeable. Using environmental performance indicators to monitor change in the environment will assist understanding and on-going commitment to the issue. The public will want to be informed of how their investment is effecting environmental quality.

It is the role of central government to create the information systems to support the dissemination of state of the environment information. The purpose of the Ministry’s Environmental Performance Indicators (EPI) Programme is “to develop and use indicators to measure and report on how well we are looking after our environment”. We have incorporated many elements relevant to measuring our progress towards reducing the impact of stormwater in our urban streams and estuaries into the EPI Programme. Such indicators are proposed in our discussion documents on indicators for marine, and freshwater environments, transport and waste. Current and proposed marine indicators include:

- Beach Water Quality

- Litter

- Time not suitable for bathing and shellfish gathering

- Natural character

- Areas with unrestricted public access

In effect, we’re facing a community mind shift. We need to gear-up communities seeking to do a better job of growing the right way with the tools they need to do so

A perfect case in point. Remember when your school was fundraising to go on camp and you raised money by washing cars? And do you think anyone gave one thought to the fact that all of that dirt, trace metals, left-over oil stains, and soapy water headed straight for your local beach? Would you do this now? How can you make others aware of the impacts? How can you show them that there are real alternatives to letting the wash water run down the nearest drain?

Stormwater and waste often share the same pipes. Thus the development of the National Waste Minimisation and Management Strategy will have positive flow-on effects for stormwater management.

The strategy due out by the end of this year, is being developed in partnership with local government. If we can reduce waste, liquid and solid at source, then this will help us clean up stormwater.

I am very aware that some of the mechanisms being considered such as waste levies, or changes to roles of councils, must be integrated with stormwater management.

I think one of the problems with stormwater is its name; it’s not stormwater - stormwater pipes aren’t dry when there is no rain. If it was water just during rain we should call it rainwater, or southerly water, or something people can relate to. In truth, apart from rainy days, it’s runoff in response to what people don’t use. We have wastewater - grey water and black water. And then we have wasted water - stormwater.

I also have a feeling that another of the problems with stormwater is that it’s often not visible. Take Wellington at the moment, for some people stormwater is a recent annoyance that is turning what was once a quick 5 minute trip in the car into a 20 minute slow navigation around road works.

Recent research by the Marketing Department at Massey University shows that around 90% of New Zealanders highly value clean air, clean water in lakes and rivers, and unpolluted water in beaches and harbours.

But there’s a gap between perception and reality, 42% of survey participants believe that New Zealand’s clean, green image is a myth, and 67% of people agree that New Zealand is cleaner than other countries only because of our small population. But the numbers who are prepared to do the right thing for the environment are much lower and falling. People need to realise that when they vote in the coming local authority elections, they are voting for the quality of their beaches, and so for the quality of their life.

The Massey University survey also found that most New Zealanders believe that the government should legislate to protect the environment. Further the government should pass laws to make people and businesses protect the environment even if it impinges on their rights to make their own decisions.

So in our attitudes to the environment there’s an element of “somebody should, but it’s not me, it’s the government”, and a gap between our concerns and our action.

The study found that New Zealanders are less involved in environmental protection activities now than they were in 1993 and are less willing to pay for protecting the environment through higher prices and taxes. While our concerns for the environment are clear, the attitudes highlighted in the study suggest that the environment is less important to New Zealanders than in 1993. I think that this is because people don’t connect the place they live in as part of the environment.

Over the past month we have been asking people around the country some broader questions about the environment: Is our environment as healthy as they would like? What are their priorities for action?

The strong level of interest shown in the Rio+10 community programme indicates to me that many people do care. To a very large extent New Zealanders' cultural identity is intertwined with our landscape, our outdoors lifestyle, and our perceptions of the quality of our environment. People want to be involved in thinking about our environment and its essential connection with our quality of life.

If you have not yet come across the Rio+10 programme, let me tell you a little about it. It has two key objectives.

The first - and most important - is getting people in the community thinking and talking about the state of our environment. That is related to one of the priorities I talked about earlier. The second is getting public input on the environment as a contribution to New Zealand’s report to the World Summit on Sustainable Development next year.

The Ministry for the Environment has now distributed more than 10,000 Rio+10 starter packs to organisations, families and schools around the country. We have over 1,500 responses, with dozens more arriving every day. We now have less than a month to go in this programme. I would urge you to contribute your views, either on the simple response form or in more detail if you prefer.


As a Minister I’m keen to see communication between all the players in stormwater. Improve the exchange of ideas on practises that have worked, and identify where there may be a role for central government leadership towards integrated stormwater management.

As Minister for the Environment I am aware that central government has an important part to play in complementing and supporting the efforts of local government and the community. I see the partnership between central and local government as an important one. I want to see it developed further. In my mind this is a partnership between equals.

It is important that the Ministry for the Environment works alongside other agencies, especially local government, to provide the community with the information it needs to make hard choices. We want the clean, healthy environment on which New Zealanders pride themselves. We are providing leadership such as through work on water quality at bathing beaches.

I’d like to hear from you on where you feel government can lead and where it can most effectively assist the communication and circulation of best practise ideas for the management of stormwater.

My hope is that this conference is another step along the way to shared knowledge for solutions and therefore the way forward to providing an unstoppable mandate for action.

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