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Protecting water everyone's responsibility

Hon Trevor Mallard
Minister for the Environment

26 February 2008 Speech Notes

Embargoed until:10.30am

Protecting water everyone's responsibility

Speech to the National Water New Zealand conference, Sky City Convention Centre, Auckland

Good morning. Thank you for the welcome and the opportunity to speak to you today on issues around the management of what is a very precious resource for New Zealand.

I don't think there is much doubt that there has been a big wake-up call for New Zealanders in recent years – well publicised statistics and data on the state of our water and rivers and their decline are hard hitting and so they should be.

Water is fundamental to our kiwi lifestyle, it's crucial for economic development, and its beauty, its health and its cleanliness is a key to our national identity, to our kiwi culture and to the health and security of communities around New Zealand.

Our ability to grow and sell primary produce and our primary sector are heavily reliant on a reliable supply of good quality water. We trade on our clean green image, it's what tourists love about this country and it offers us a competitive advantage in international markets which are increasingly clamouring for eco-friendly products and services.

The Prime Minister has expressed an aspiration for New Zealand to be the world’s first sustainable nation – and part of this work programme is a strong focus on managing our water resource.

Nationally, we have put money towards restoring and preserving the water quality of lakes such as Lake Taupo and the Rotorua lakes. We funded the development of the Waitaki Catchment Water Allocation Plan. New Water Efficiency Labelling regulations for appliances are underway.

There are also some positive local initiatives - the Auckland Three Waters Strategic Planning Process and the Kapiti Coast District Council plan change requiring ‘grey water’ recycling for lawn watering in all new developments. Waitakere City Council is looking at providing incentives for water conservation tools such as rain tanks and low flow showerheads.
However, as a country we still have a way to go.
This morning I launched the fourth progress report on the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord. The Accord aims to achieve clean, healthy water in dairying areas, including streams, rivers, lakes, groundwater and wetlands. Steady progress is being made towards the Accord’s targets in most areas.
The levels of non-compliance with resource consent conditions or regional plan rules for dairy effluent management have marginally improved on last season’s results, but a percentage of farmers are still letting us and their fellow farmers down, and some regions of New Zealand are more disappointing than others. As I said this morning, ministers will have this issue at the forefront of their minds when the Accord progress is reviewed in the middle of this year.
Significant progress has also been made in farmers adopting nutrient management budgets compared to last season but it is worth noting that while developing a budget is one thing, sticking to it is another matter.
The Accord partners are working hard to make sure farmers are able to meet all targets of the Accord. The mid-year review will assess opportunities for improvement, and leverage off new initiatives such as the dairy industry's Strategy for Sustainable Environmental Management.
More work still needs to be done on meeting the Accord’s targets, especially on effluent and nutrient management and regionally significant wetlands. I urge farmers to continue to work with the Accord’s partners on achieving a clean, green environment for all, and I urge local authorities to use the legal powers they've been given to impose compliance on the minority of farmers who continue to pollute.
However, it’s not just farmers that need to take care of New Zealand’s fresh water. The quality of water in developed areas, both rural —and urban — is declining. And this isn’t the only issue. There is under-investment in infrastructure.
Of all the water allocated in this country only a third is measured. Only 20 of the 74 local authorities are using water meters. I’m not advocating water pricing but "knowing how much we use" seems a critical bit of information if we are to improve management of this key natural asset.
In respect of this issue, I’m pleased to announce that yesterday Cabinet signed off on the new National Environmental Standard for Measurement of Water Takes, following a close consultation process with stakeholders, particularly local government, the productive sector and urban water suppliers.
The standard, which will now be put into regulation, sets minimum requirements for the installation and operation of water measuring and recording devices, including the transfer of data to regional authorities.
It imposes requirements on consent holders to install and operate water measuring devices. Once operative, it will apply to existing consent holders within five years. The aim is to measure the amount of water taken from rivers, lakes or aquifers at the point where it is first taken out of the source waterbody.
It does not apply to individual households or businesses using water from reticulated supplies, nor to small abstractions for an individual’s drinking or stock-drinking needs.
Between both local and central government, I see a need for co-ordinated and timely investment in and use of regulatory frameworks, governance arrangements and infrastructure that recognises the enormity of the challenge.

One of our key tools as part of this work is the Resource Management Act and that is the focus of the Sustainable Water Programme of Action.

Partnerships between local and central government is key in this work – the programme is not aimed at hampering local government where locally developed water management solutions are working – but where they are not working, it is important that government get involved.

There has been talk about the pace of the programme but let me assure you that progress has been made and you will see significant announcements in the next few months relating to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and various national environmental standards that will insert national consistency into local decision making on what is allowed and what is not.

Such tools are made possible by the RMA – and it also gives councils quite a bit of flexibility and possibilities so local planning decisions can be made that suit the local environment. It worries me when the RMA is used conservatively by local government or as an excuse for inaction, when it offers good scope for innovation and streamlining and explicit signalling to applicants at the local level.

For instance, Horizons Manawatu-Wanganui released their One Plan last year under the RMA. It very clearly sets out that the council will focus on its priority big four problems – water quality, water demand, hill country land use and threatened habitats – and the plan is very clear about what is acceptable and what is not, in relation to resource use.

So I do want to see the RMA used much more innovatively, making full use of its potential – and that is also what the Sustainable Water Programme policy instruments are all about.

So far under the Programme, we have completed a national environmental standard on the protection of human drinking water sources, there have been significant injections of funding to protect water quality of Lake Taupo and Lake Rotoiti, and we are about to start discussing a standard for setting ecological flows and water levels.

We need to make the decision on how much water should stay in our rivers, lakes and groundwater systems to protect ecosystems, cultural and recreational values.

These standards are initiatives that will promote more consistency in decision making. But the cornerstone of the Water Programme will be a National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

We’ve been talking over the last two years with many organisations from many different viewpoints. This input has been very valuable.

I promise you a policy statement that will challenge thinking about water – as I have got to the point where I believe that complacency is just not an option.

Freshwater management is not the topic for a soft policy that encourages and guides change. Water is such a vital resource that there can be strong tensions between the many groups who rely on it and who value it – for different reasons.

I understand the need to place a line in the sand as to how these tensions should be resolved.

There are rivers that I swam in as a child that are no longer swimmable – and to be frank – it dismays and disgusts me that things have got so bad due to decades of both rural and urban pollution.

Most Kiwis can see we have a problem and like me, don't find it acceptable. As New Zealanders we have strong personal and cultural associations– we really care about the country and want to maintain and enjoy its special resources.

And I am determined to ensure we have a programme that leads to those rivers being clean enough to swim in within a generation.

While pollution from point sources has decreased, at the same time, trends indicate increasing diffuse pollution associated with land use activities.

So, improving freshwater management will require some changes in behaviour among us all, particularly those who regularly pollute.

The 87 per cent of us that live in cities cannot sit back and say "declining water quality - it’s a rural thing".

It isn’t – the most polluted streams in the country are in urban areas. Waiwhetu stream in my Hutt South electorate is a prime example of how a waterway can be virtually destroyed by urban pollution.

We are working towards a national policy statement being ready for public consultation in around June. I hope you find it provides you and others the opportunity to thoughtfully and constructively debate the tensions related to freshwater issues.

As part of that debate, one question we could keep in mind: Why can't New Zealand think about being at the international forefront of water sustainability? What would that take?

Looking forward - the national policy statement and other parts of the Water Programme will not by themselves ensure our fresh water bodies are some of the most sustainable in the world.

When local authorities contemplate new investments in public infrastructure, they also need to factor water and environmental sustainability into their planning

I think the time has long gone when it is acceptable for public agencies to defer spending on environmental initiatives in favour of shorter-term gains.

I was heartened to see the Local Government New Zealand suggestions for the National Policy Statement.

They have sought a priority be given to domestic water supplies but only if suppliers place a strong emphasis on demand management. I like that approach – it provides a sensible incentive by rewarding those who make the commitment to environmental sustainability.

I understand there have been requests that the proposed National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management require far greater alignment, particularly in land-use planning, between local/city councils and regional councils.

I’m sympathetic to that request. In my view investment in infrastructure and environmental sustainability needs aligned decision making.

I encourage you to explore what being sustainable with our fresh water means –I’d like to know that – when the next State of the Environment report is released in five years time – that New Zealanders can say with pride that the declining trend in water quality has been reversed, and that great strides have been made in the efficient use of water.

Thank you


ENDS

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