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Proposed stronger regime for protecting our water

Hon Trevor Mallard
Minister for the Environment

23 July 2008 Media Statement
Embargoed until 1.15pm
Proposed stronger regime for protecting our water

A proposed National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management that aims to set up a stronger regime for the protection and enhancement of New Zealand's rivers, lakes and waterways has been released by Environment Minister Trevor Mallard today.

Public consultation on the proposed statement will be formally announced soon by an independent Board of Inquiry (see separate statement) which will run the consultation process and formally call for and consider submissions on the proposal.

"We need to improve the way freshwater is managed in New Zealand. The proposed national policy statement identifies water quality and the need to manage increasing demands for freshwater as matters of national significance. New Zealand's water is not a limitless resource. Our government recognises it needs protecting and sustainable management, and that we must step up our actions to stop its degradation in rural and urban areas," Trevor Mallard said.

"Fresh water has economic, social and cultural importance to New Zealanders. That is why the proposed statement has been developed to take into consideration recreational aspirations, such as being able to swim in rivers and lakes. It also addresses cultural values, such as reflecting tangata whenua interests in freshwater management. And it looks at economic considerations such as the role of water in agriculture and the need to protect New Zealand's "clean green" reputation and brand for the sake of our exports offshore.

"The proposed statement will guide and direct councils to manage freshwater better. This includes having concrete plans and rules in place to address competing demands for water, water contamination and in some areas declining water supply. Cleaning up our waterways on a practical level can not always be done quickly and will require a lot of work and persistent and dedicated changes in behaviour. This is why we have proposed in this policy statement that our freshwater resource meets the needs and aspirations of New Zealanders in a generation – by 2035.

"I recognise that various groups and communities have competing demands and standpoints in relation to how we manage our freshwater resources. The aim of this proposed policy statement is to find a balanced approach to freshwater management. The statement also incorporates mechanisms to involve iwi and hapu in freshwater management.

"I would urge people to get involved in putting in submissions to the Board of Inquiry once it announces the start of the formal consultation."
The proposed National Policy Statement is at www.mfe.govt.nz. A backgrounder is attached

--

Backgrounder: Announcement of Proposed National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management

National policy statements are tools available under the Resource Management Act 1991(RMA) and provide objectives, policies, and targets to help guide and direct local authorities on how to manage nationally significant resources – such as freshwater.

The management of water resource is local government's responsibility. It is expected that this National Policy Statement once finalised will have an immediate influence on RMA decision-making around water use. Regional and district planning documents must give effect to the objectives and policies contained in the statement, with regional councils being required to notify any changes to their regional police statements within two years of the statement coming into effect. The proposed statement also includes a timetable for required changes to regional and district plans.

The national policy statement is one of a series of first steps to improve our water – other initiatives are outlined in the fact sheet at the end of this document. Information on New Zealand's fresh water is at http://www.mfe.govt.nz/publications/ser/enz07-info-sheets-jun08/index.html

The proposed goals of the proposed National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management include:
• Meeting the recreational aspirations of New Zealanders, including that freshwater resources are swimmable;
• Addressing existing and future constraints on the availability of freshwater resources;
• Addressing the effects of existing and future discharges of contaminants to freshwater resources;
• Providing more certainty in respect of competing demands on New Zealand’s freshwater resources and facilitate opportunities to increase benefits from the use of freshwater resources, within the above constraints on availability and effects of discharges;
• Addressing matters of national significance relating to the sustainable management of freshwater resources; and
• Improve the integrated management of freshwater resources by territorial authorities, regional councils, and others whose activities affect the freshwater resources.

Examples
The proposed statement aims to ensure efficient use of freshwater particularly in terms of avoiding wastage and excessive contamination. Every regional council would be required to ensure that relevant discharge permits affecting freshwater resources include conditions that protect against the degradation of the quality of freshwater resources.

The proposed statement would also require councils to set environmental flows and levels as quickly as possible, and establish how they will manage increasing demand and land use intensification within those limits and through their plans.

Fact sheet: Government initiatives to improve New Zealand's water

Existing or proposed national environmental standards (regulations) under the Sustainable Water Programme of Action:
• A National Environmental Standard for Sources of Human Drinking Water, effective from June, ensures that activities do not pollute drinking water sources, so that water remains safe for people to drink after existing treatment.
• The National Environmental Standard for Measurement of Water Takes is being prepared for drafting into regulation. This standard will help provide more accurate information about water use and measuring it, to improve sustainable management.
• National Environmental Standard on Ecological Flows and Water Levels discussion document is out for public comment. This is to promote consistency in the way we decide whether there is sufficient variability and quantity of water flowing in rivers, groundwater systems, lakes and wetlands.
• National Environmental Standard for On-Site Wastewater Systems discussion document is out for public comment. This is to improve the management and environmental performance of septic tanks and other on-site systems used to treat domestic waste water – especially in problem areas.

Additional Government activity and funding support
• Sustainability, including of water, is one of the four priorities of the ‘Fast Forward’ science funding initiative. ‘Fast Forward’ includes a commitment of $700 million by government. Industry and businesses in the pastoral and food sectors will also significantly increase their spending in innovation.
• $22 million a year invested in freshwater research through the Foundation of Research Science and Technology.
• Committed $36.7 million to the Lake Taupo Water Quality Protection Programme.
• Contributed $4 million to the Ohau Channel Diversion Project to improve Lake Rotoiti’s water quality.
• The government is contributing $72.1 million for a programme to protect and restore the Rotorua lakes.
• The Sustainable Farming Fund has provided over $22 million to 30 project teams working on tools and techniques to improve water quality management in the primary sectors.
• $2 million towards the development of the Waitaki Catchment Water Allocation Regional Plan.
• Sustainable Land Management and Climate Change Plan of Action ($175 million over five years) will provide impetus to reducing sediment and nitrogen discharges to water.
• Sanitary Works Subsidy Scheme – providing grants to local communities.
• Water efficiency labelling scheme.
• The Primary Sector Reference Group (representative groups from all land-based primary sectors) concentrates on the development of voluntary initiatives (which include objectives and targets) aimed at increasing environmental sustainability of the primary sector, and building the capacity to address sustainability in the primary sector. Engagement with a wide array of stakeholders (including groups with representatives from environmental non-governmental organisations, local government, urban interests, electricity generators, and the primary sector) has provided valuable input into the Water Programme.


ENDS

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