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Water management: A plan for the future

24 September 2008 Speech Notes

Embargoed until:2pm

Water management: A plan for the future

Environment Minister Trevor Mallard's speech to the NZ Water and Waste Association Conference, James Hay Theatre, Christchurch Convention Centre.

Good afternoon. Thank you for the welcome and opportunity to speak to you about the management of one of this country's most precious resources.

Managing water quality and quantity is a vital part of our work to protect and enhance New Zealand's clean green image and part of our drive towards achieving sustainability in all aspects of our life.

Our approach begins with a fundamental acceptance that New Zealand's water is a public resource that is managed by the Crown on behalf of all New Zealanders.

Under Helen Clark's leadership, a proactive and innovative programme of work has been put in place on this front because Labour recognises it is important for our way of life, but also for lifting our standard of living.

New Zealand needs to ensure that we are at the leading edge in world markets by selling the eco-friendly and sustainable products that consumers are increasingly demanding.

Labour has already put fresh ideas into action, and we have more planned – water management is one area where there is a lot of work going on.

Contrast our approach with that of our opponents who have not yet got to first base in coming to grips with the environmental challenges. While we have put an Emissions Trading Scheme in place, they dilly dally and bury their heads in the sand. Their leader and some key frontbenchers are after all on record as climate change sceptics. And that point alone makes it very difficult to trust what they say.

Labour realises that if we don't act, we will quickly lag behind.

Achieving sustainable water management is important for our economic success. Consumers will not be interested in buying goods that have been produced at the expense of the local environment – be it through pollution in waterways, or through local water supplies running out because water resources have not been managed properly or sustainably.

The exporters who continue to pollute or mismanage this precious resource, breaking local rules and standards in the process, are actually undermining their own product and the valuable New Zealand brand.

And if that is not incentive enough, then I think many people will agree with me when I say it's also time they started facing the full personal penalties, including imprisonment, available under the law as an added incentive to get their act together – rather than hiding behind companies which treat relatively small fines as a cost of doing business.

I would like to acknowledge the role of the New Zealand Water & Waste Association in helping with managing our water over the past 50 years. Thank you for your hard work.

The theme of this conference: "Ensuring water for the future" is a good one as it underlines the critical importance of long term planning.

With that in mind, I want to discuss today issues around our water and waste infrastructure, the importance of national consistency in freshwater management, and the impact of land use on water management.

Infrastructure is at the centre of both economic and social development. It directly contributes to our living standards and to our quality of life, and in the management of water this is especially true.

Infrastructure for water supply and waste water requires ongoing resources and effort to ensure that it is suitably maintained and meets modern standards.

Maintaining what is mainly underground infrastructure to acceptable levels has historically been a challenge. I am pleased that in recent years significant progress has been made in improving the quality of drinking water and wastewater infrastructure.

In 2003, 68 per cent of New Zealand’s population received water that was known to comply with the requirements of the drinking water standards. By 2008 this had increased to 80 per cent. Your members have been pivotal in achieving that gain.

The government has also had a significant role. It has provided funding of $325 million since 2002 to assist councils and communities to improve their drinking water and wastewater systems. Some of the programmes that the government has funded are the Sanitary Works Subsidy Scheme, the Drinking Water Assistance Programme and the Tourism Demand Subsidy Scheme.

But there are big challenges ahead. It is clear that aging drinking water, storm water and wastewater networks; and the growth needs of communities in many areas will put significant pressure on the resources of some local authorities.

For example, an Infrastructure Auckland report estimated it could cost between $1.9 billion and $11.2 billion over the next 20 years to upgrade the water, wastewater and storm water systems in the region. Those are sobering figures.

We do need smart planning for water infrastructure investment that is regionally integrated.

An example is the Auckland Three Waters Draft Strategy. This maps out integrated planning for water, wastewater and stormwater for the future.

Regional integrated planning is good because neighbouring authorities which share resources and assets are too often not talking and planning together. This leads to perverse outcomes - such as bits of pipe being missed when rebuilding; or as one local authority has a pipe being rebuilt, while the neighbouring authority intends decommissioning it and upgrading pipes in another area.

The current variability in reporting by local authorities also makes it difficult to get an accurate national picture of the situation and what is being done. For example one authority might classify the water infrastructure issue as very poor in their region, where another classifies this as fine.

This inconsistency makes it near impossible to pinpoint where priorities lie and how much investment is needed to reach or maintain a certain standard. Standardised reporting is therefore needed.

We also must be smarter about allocation.

Water is increasingly becoming a scarce resource and we need guarantees that it is being allocated to provide the highest value.

Environment Canterbury is now facing significant problems with overallocated groundwater resources.

I have met with Environment Canterbury to understand their concerns and to explore means to address those issues. Environment Canterbury has already been working to address the problems it is facing with water allocation through a variation to its proposed Natural Resources Regional Plan (NRRP). The regional council is seeking to improve the methods for establishing and implementing groundwater allocation limits in each of the allocation zones. It also takes into account seasonal variation in groundwater levels.

Water allocation in Canterbury is a nationally important topic, given the importance of agriculture to our national economy and the importance of water to agriculture.

While the responsibility for water management rests with Environment Canterbury, the problem it is facing has warranted the government to consider how it could assist the council to move forward.

The government is actively discussing the issue with Environment Canterbury officials. While no final decisions have been made I can say that any approach we will take will focus on giving increased certainty both to the environment and to water users surrounding the amount of water available to meet their respective needs.

In recognition, the government is developing work streams to explore allocation and efficiency of the use of water in New Zealand under the Sustainable Water Programme of Action.

The current workstream builds on earlier work to date, and sits on top of the existing toolkit that has been developed. Among the options being explored are:
 How to move water to its highest-value use and how to determine what highest-value is.
 How to deal with catchments where more water than should be allocated has been allocated.
 Alternatives to the current first-in-first-served common allocation method, where water is allocated to people in the order in which they apply for it.
 Alternatives explored would include models such as the Waitaki Catchment Water Allocation Regional Plan, which took a considered approach to allocation, based on allocations to activities (such as agriculture, tourism, and energy) rather than based simply on when an application was made.
 The potential to separate take for use.
 How to ensure the appropriate participation of certain stakeholders in decisions.
 The possible role of central boards/commissions (which could range from advisory to actual decision-making bodies).

We need to see better use of water at all levels. It is important that households and businesses are enabled and encouraged to reduce their water use.

Demand management initiatives can help by raising the awareness of water and infrastructure in our communities.

I am encouraged by Kapiti Coast District Council’s demand management initiative.
Their plan change requires all new homes to have greywater and/or rainwater tanks for outdoor irrigation. This has stemmed from the council’s Sustainable Water Use Strategy – a framework adopted in 2003.

North Shore City Council has also made rain tanks for storm water compulsory. Waitakere City Council is proposing to make rain tanks and other demand management devices compulsory.

I am pleased to say that a project is underway involving the Ministry for the Environment, the New Zealand Water and Waste Association, Local Government New Zealand, and other experts in the area to build on these existing initiatives.

The project will deliver Best Practice Demand Management Guidelines, aimed at assisting water utilities and councils nationally in introducing demand management measures appropriate for their particular situation. The project will pull together information on the importance of demand management, demand management methods and examples of successful initiatives.

It will enable practitioners to develop a staged suite of demand management practices which will be effective in their individual circumstances and there will also be a web-based component which will be regularly updated and available with information and case studies. The added feature of the website will be that it will allow for queries to be posted and answered on the subject.

I want to see a strategic, nationally consistent approach to water resource management that ensures efficient, fair and sustainable use of our freshwater.

One of our key mechanisms for achieving this is the Resource Management Act—particularly national policy statements and national environmental standards.

At the end of July I released the proposed National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and appointed a board of inquiry to lead public consultation.

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.

Last weekend, the board of inquiry publicly notified the national policy statement and invited submissions. I urge you all to take the opportunity to make a submission by the closing date on 23 January so the board can be fully informed when it makes its recommendations on the statement.

Once the statement is finalised, local government decision makers will be immediately required to have regard to it when determining resource consent and designation applications and plan changes.

Each council will need to consider the proposed national policy statement against their RMA planning documents, and identify where any amendments are required to give effect to the proposed national policy statement, including possible changes to existing regulations.

Under the RMA we are also developing national environmental standards that act as regulations and directly support the proposed national policy statement by setting minimum standards related to specific aspects of water management.
These include the National Environmental Standard for Sources of Human Drinking Water which came into effect in June, a standard for the measurement of water takes which is being finalised, a proposed standard on ecological flows and water levels which recently ended its consultation period, and a standard for on-site wastewater systems for which submissions close this Friday, 26 September.

As I touched on before, primary industries, including agriculture, are fundamental to our economy. Likewise, good quality water is key to our ability to grow and sell primary produce.

It is in industry's interests to show leadership and work proactively to do everything necessary to ensure excessive nutrient use does not continue to cause our water quality to decline.

The next logical step in some areas is to set a cap on nutrients in order to halt and reverse the decline in water quality.

This is beginning in the Lake Taupo catchment and around the Rotorua Lakes, iconic water bodies which the government is providing significant funding for in order to ensure their long term quality.

The proposed National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management will also require councils to improve the management of the undesirable effects of both rural and urban land use on water quality by tying together policies on water use, water quality and land-use development.

This will ensure that council planning takes place in an integrated and strategic manner.

The government is committed to helping local communities develop consistently good water management across New Zealand through the Sustainable Water Programme of Action and the tools and work to do this is steadily rolling out, with more in the pipeline.

Reversing the declining trend in water quality won't happen overnight, but if we all do our bit, it will happen.

Thank you.


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