The Land and Water Forum publicly released its most recent report today. The report is the fifth since the Forum was set up at the initiative of the Environmental Defence Society in 2009.
“This is the Forum’s first report to the Labour-led Government and directly responds to a series of questions from the Ministers for the Environment and Agriculture,” said EDS CEO Gary Taylor.
“The Report’s recommendations focus on speeding up robust implementation: what is needed to establish and then operate within limits to ensure our fresh water stays healthy and clean. Ministers were especially interested in ideas for preventing further degradation while plans are made.
“So far implementation has been haphazard with different regions doing different things, some of them unlawful, and with differing levels of urgency. So the Forum has recommended the creation of a high-powered Land and Water Commission to provide national direction and oversight. This is the most important recommendation in the report.
“There is also a critical role for the Minister for the Environment, with the Forum recommending the use of prohibited activity status or moratoria to ‘stop the rot’ in catchments where water quality is dire and councils aren’t acting fast enough. In some catchments this might mean no more cows until plans are set; in others it might be a short term stop to subdivision.
“A related intervention the Report did not address in detail is consents for intensification. EDS expects that in most catchments consent for both existing and new intensive land uses impacting fresh water will be required. Without this it is extremely difficult for councils to account for and control the amount of contaminants entering waterways.
“An important step forward is the Report’s recommendation that sectoral good management practice (GMP) be codified and made mandatory. GMP is effectively a social licence to operate and it is good to see the sector representatives on the Forum agree with that. But GMP is not a silver bullet. In many catchments it won’t be enough and land use change will be required.
“The Forum has also identified the 1 billion trees programme as an opportunity to not just achieve carbon reductions, but to achieve co-benefits for fresh water. EDS strongly supports the inclusion of fresh water ecosystem health improvements, in particular sediment control, water quality, and habitat creation, as criteria to be applied when deciding where those trees should be planted.
“Iwi rights and interests in fresh water and gaps in the science need to be addressed as a matter of urgency. But it is critical this does not lead to inaction.
“One issue that the Forum did not reach agreement on was nitrogen limits. This is a controversial issue and national leadership is required urgently to set nitrogen limits.
“Overall EDS supports this consensus report, notwithstanding gaps that need addressing. We also support the decision of the Forum to go into recess: it’s job is done. It’s now for government to implement the recommendations and we will continue to work with Ministers to achieve the much-needed improvements in freshwater management. It’s important Ministers see the recommendations as a co-ordinated package and not cherry pick bits of it.
“Finally, I’d like to acknowledge with thanks the roles played by Forum Chair Dr Hugh Logan and the very professional and dedicated Secretariat to corral the disparate members of the Forum into a progressive consensus. It wasn’t easy,” Mr Taylor concluded.