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Charting dynamic new course to manage our water

10 April 2006

Charting dynamic new course to manage our water

The government has agreed a significant new strategy to protect and improve New Zealand's freshwater resources.

"Cabinet has approved a staged package of actions to improve the sustainable management of our rivers, lakes and ground water," the Minister of Agriculture and Forestry Jim Anderton and Minister for the Environment David Benson-Pope announced today.

"The Sustainable Water Programme of Action will develop, for the first time, a strategic and nationally consistent approach to managing our valuable freshwater resources," Mr Anderton said.

"The days of taking the unlimited use of water for granted are over. We need to ensure our freshwater is used efficiently; and that it is protected from contamination from bugs, sediment, nutrients, stormwater and subdivision run-off.

"Central government will take a greater role in freshwater management including setting national priorities and direction, while working closely with all parties with a significant interest."

Environment Minister Benson-Pope emphasised that the vast majority of freshwater management is working well.

"Primary responsibility for water management will remain at the regional level, but the strategy will develop new adaptable solutions and tools that councils and communities may apply to different regional circumstances," he said.

Mr Benson-Pope said the Programme acknowledges the vital importance of freshwater as a foundation of our nation’s social, cultural, environmental and economic wellbeing.

"Many of our water sources are national treasures or the life blood of our economy. Water is fundamental to the New Zealand way of life, and occupies a special place in our national way of thinking. Changing circumstances, including increasing demand and competition for water, require a new, more dynamic and flexible strategy for managing our water sustainably into the future.

"There are some unacceptable trends that need reversing. We want to improve and protect our special places like Lake Taupo, the Rotorua Lakes and Lake Ellesmere."

Actions agreed today include the establishment of a leadership group within three months; and creation of policy on how we manage freshwater and protect nationally outstanding rivers, lakes and streams. This will include drafting a National Policy Statement and National Environmental Standards. The Programme will be developed in partnership with local government, sector groups and the public.

Mr Anderton said the Programme is about water management, not water ownership: "Water will remain in public ownership. We want to ensure that every New Zealander has fair and equal access to water. We also want to ensure that economic growth occurs in a sustainable way, with our environment protected."

The following principles have been used to guide the development of the package:

- water will continue to be managed as a public resource
- freshwater management will be improved under the Resource Management Act
- regional councils will continue to have primary responsibility for managing freshwater
- clear environmental limits will be set for water quality and the quantity available for allocation
- enhancements to existing mechanisms and the provision of incentives will improve efficiency of water use

- resource users will be encouraged to take responsibility for their actions and will be given the flexibility to develop appropriate solutions
- nationally outstanding natural water bodies will be identified and better protected
- the best available information will be used for decision-making processes
- community involvement and confidence in decision-making processes will be maximised, building on the opportunities for participation in the regional planning process.

"We have listened to what the public had to say, and have incorporated their views. Improving how we manage our freshwater resources requires leadership from government, support from local and regional government, innovation from industry and agriculture, and understanding and a willingness to change from the wider community," said Mr Anderton.

The Cabinet Paper and Questions and Answers are available at www.mfe.govt.nz and www.maf.govt.nz

*********

Sustainable Water Programme of Action – Key elements:

The government has identified three national outcomes for freshwater to be achieved through the Sustainable Water Programme of Action:

- Improve the quality and efficient use of freshwater by building and enhancing partnerships

- Improve the management of the undesirable effects of land-use on water quality
- Provide for growing demands on water resources and encourage efficient water management

The staged package of actions is designed to achieve these outcomes by providing clear leadership, national direction, national priorities, and tools to enhance local decision-making. The initiatives include:

Leadership:

- Establishing, within three months, a leadership group reporting to the Ministers for the Environment and of Agriculture

National Direction:

- Scoping and drafting:
- A National Policy Statement on managing increasing demands for water
- A National Environmental Standard for methods and devices for measuring water take and use
- A National Environmental Standard on methods for establishing environmental flows
- In addition, the potential value of and options for a National Policy Statement on nutrients and microbial contaminants and sediment will be considered

National Priorities:

- Identify catchments that are sensitive and ‘at risk’ from rural and urban diffuse discharges
- Establish criteria for identifying nationally outstanding natural water bodies

Tools to assist regional councils:
- Investigate current practice and develop enhanced methods for transferring water consents
- Investigate the role of water user groups in managing water under cooperative management regimes
- Improve methodologies for applying environmental flows to water bodies
- Develop methods to assist regional councils to recover costs for water management

- Develop methods for identifying and protecting natural character and biodiversity values
- Develop methods for managing over-allocated catchments including examining the possible effectiveness of alternatives to first-in-first-served allocation mechanisms
- Develop model resource consents and consent conditions for water
- Develop strategies for better alignment of science priorities and the Programme

ENDS

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