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Proposals set pathway for much-needed improvement

Proposals set pathway for much-needed improvement in fresh water

Water New Zealand is urging the Government not to dilute the proposals in its recently released discussion document aimed at cleaning up the country’s freshwater resources.

In a submission on the Action for healthy waterways proposals, Water New Zealand says the Government needs to stand strong and defend the plan against vested interests seeking to avoid responsibility for activities and practices that have led to degraded water quality.

Principal Advisor Water Quality, Jim Graham says Water New Zealand supports an evidence-led approach to freshwater policy, underpinned by sound science. Science has identified and quantified the problems and the proposals provide solutions that are clearly based on that science.

He says the evidence is clear that high intensity agriculture, particularly dairying, has resulted in a serious decline in water quality in some parts of the country.

While Water New Zealand welcomes the approach outlined in the document and the proposed limits of nitrogen and other contaminants from agriculture and urban discharges, it has some concerns about the ability of Regional Councils to implement the proposals.

Jim Graham says that while many councils perform a range of important functions very well, some have a poor record of enforcing requirements of the Resource Management Act and conditions set in resource consents.

“Since 2008, Water New Zealand has undertaken an annual performance comparison of drinking, waste and stormwater services by local authorities.

“The National Performance Review shows a wide variation in consenting practices and a low level of enforcement for wastewater and stormwater non-compliance, with very few prosecutions. An unacceptable number of discharges operate on consents which have been expired for many years. This should not have been allowed.”

He says a likely reason for this is that the councils, though tasked with enforcement, are not specifically regulatory authorities.

“We need greater central government regulatory oversight and in the longer term, our view is that New Zealand would benefit from a central regulator covering drinking water, wastewater, stormwater and freshwater.”

Water New Zealand strongly supports the Te Mana o te Wai hierarchy of obligations and says a national discussion about Maori rights and interests in water is long overdue.

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