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Broken promise on water safety in leaked paper

22 July 2008

Broken promise on water safety in leaked paper

A leaked government blueprint for freshwater management shows Labour may be about to break its promise to make all water bodies safe for swimming within a generation, according to Green MP and Co-Leader Russel Norman.

The Government is due to release its long-awaited National Policy Statement for freshwater management this week. It follows Environment Minister Trevor Mallard's promise about "rivers being clean enough to swim in within a generation" in February 2008 and a similar Labour promise during the 2005 election campaign.

"However the actual details in the draft National Policy Statement leaked to me do not meet such promises to make all water bodies swimmable within a generation. There's no objective to make rivers safe for swimming and there's no objective to restore ecological values to rivers and lakes," Dr Norman said.

"The Government promised a Sustainable Water Programme of Action back in 2003. A cabinet paper back in 2004 wanted community involvement and to achieve that the Environment Ministry (MfE) consulted iwi, environmental groups and ordinary people, but more recently a new parallel semi-official body, partly funded and supported by the Agriculture and Forestry Ministry (MAF) and Agriculture Minister Jim Anderton has taken leadership over water issues.

"The draft NPS would give New Zealand one of the worst freshwater quality standards in the OECD. Objectives such as 'Enabling well-being of people and communities' and 'Improving the quality of fresh water', for example, are nonsense without specific dates and defined water quality standards eg exactly when rivers need to reach a 'swimmable and/or fishable' standard again.

"This is more evidence that the safety of our water resources has been hijacked by vested interests with the ear of cabinet."

See bullet-point analysis of paper below.


Analysis of leaked Govt. National Policy Statement on water

Russel Norman, Green Co-leader

22 July 2008


1. This document is long awaited - Labour has been promising this NPS for many years. Labour's promise during the 2005 election campaign was to make all water bodies safe for swimming.

2. Environment Minister Trevor Mallard repeated the promise about "rivers being clean enough to swim in within a generation" on February 26, 2008 in a speech to the National Water New Zealand conference at the Sky City Convention Centre.

3. Mr Mallard is due to release the draft National Policy Statement this week according to the Prime Minister at her post-cabinet press conference on Monday.

4. The Greens have been leaked a copy.


1. The NPS, according to the draft leaked to the Greens, is a toothless piece of bureaucracy that could take ten years or more and be expensive to implement with very little environmental benefit. It's "greenwash" with a lack of practicable positive outcomes.

2. It does not meet Labour's promises to make all water bodies swimmable within a generation and there is no objective of restoring ecological values to rivers and lakes. There are vague statements about restoring ecological values being a desirable thing.

3. The stated objectives for water quality (objectives 3, 4 and 5) appear to be weaker than some existing policies in regional councils' Regional Policy Statements and Regional Plan documents.

4. The NPS would give NZ one of the worst freshwater quality standards in the OECD. The EU's Water Framework Directive has 30 pages of quality and quantity standards which are to be achieved by 2015. The United States "fishable and swimmable" standard as it is colloquially called under its Clean Water Act calls for "water quality which provides for the protection and propagation of fish, shellfish and wildlife and provides for recreation in and on the water".

5. They have chosen to implement the NPS in the slowest way possible - by directing all regional councils to change their Regional Policy Statements with all the consultation and litigation involved. It could take two years to get the NPS through, another five years to notify changes to regional policy statements, and then another five years to bring regional and district plans into line with the new regional policy statements. This could take 12 years all up.

6. If they were serious they would simply have inserted the water quality objectives into regional council plans as they have the power to do under the RMA. Under their process it will be years before the NPS is implemented.

Why has this happened?

1. As the Green Party has been saying in recent months the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry and its group of polluter interests has hijacked the Government's water clean-up plan.

2. We have shown the evidence for this through the Primary Sector Water Partnership documents that the Greens made public last month. The Government was secretly working with industry groups behind the backs of the environmental NGOs.

3. MAF, Federated Farmers and Landcorp have been attempting to stop Horizons Regional Council (Manawatu/Wanganui) from adopting a target of making rivers swimmable. What needs to happen? The NPS needs to be changed to actually adopt an objective of making rivers and lakes swimmable within a specified time frame. The Green Party suggests the document is meaningless unless defined objectives are included. Objectives such as "Enabling wellbeing of people and communities" and "Improving the quality of fresh water", for example, are nonsense without specific dates and defined water quality standards eg exactly when rivers need to reach a "swimmable and/or fishable" standard again.


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