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Water management will constrain growth

Water management issues will impose a major constraint on growth in the next 10 years.

Larger fresh water catchments are coming under stress, the Integrated Environment Management Conference was told in Wellington today.

The Chief Executive of the New Zealand Business Council for Sustainable Development, Peter Neilson, said agricultural intensification and population growth were causing the stress.

Competition for access to water and growing concerns about water quality showed existing practices were not coping with current problems.

Under the existing system water in most major catchments could technically be fully allocated by 2012, imposing an unnecessary restraint on economic growth.

Mr Neilson said:

For more all of our history we have had more fresh water than we almost ever needed: the fist-in, first-served approach to issuing rights to use water had worked well – but a better approach was now needed.
That new integrated approach needed to be able to address:
• Both the surface water (rivers and streams) and ground water (aquifers) in a catchment
• Provide grater security for environmental bottom lines
• Manage both the issues of competition for water supply and the quality of water in stressed catchments
• Require water users to carry a greater share of the risk that comes with the natural variability of available water volumes
• Provide greater central Government guidance on how water should be allocated and quality maintained
• Ensure better security of tenure for water rights, so longer term investments become feasible without a Crown underwrite or subsidy
• Ensure that water which is allocated, but unused, is available for transfer to other legal uses
• Enable regional councils to make strategic decisions about future water use in their catchments
• Provide timely information on what amount, where and how fresh water is being used.

Mr Neilson said the Government's Water Programme of Action was addressing several of these issues, including guidelines for setting minimum environmental flows and monitoring and metering.

"These initiatives are to be welcomed, but the 'gold rush' for water now underway indicates more actions will be necessary if we are to avoid the water problems now proving difficult to fix in Australia."

Mr Neilson said the Business Council next month expected to publish the results of a major $300,000 two-year long project looking at ways the country can best use its fresh water and achieve growth while better protecting the environment and the interests of recreational, municipal, cultural and commercial users.


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