The Government is taking a more proactive and hands-on role in freshwater management in the next phase of reforms.
At the end of May, the government announced a package of reform on freshwater management called Action for Healthy Waterways. This announced package relates to water quality matters, with water allocation to be the subject of future reform.
These reforms show that central government are taking a more prescriptive and directive role in freshwater management. This reform package is likely to present opportunities and have potential implications for a wide range of parties that use or manage freshwater, in both rural and urban areas. Significant work will be required by Regional Councils and communities to implement the new package announced.
The guiding vision for the Action for Healthy Waterways reform package is achievement of material improvement in water quality within five years; and restoration of New Zealand’s waterways to a healthy state within a generation.
|2020 – 2023||• Protection for wetlands, streams and fish passage
• Controls on intensive winter grazing
• Controls on feedlots and stock holding areas
• Interim restrictions on major agricultural intensification
• Reduce excessive nitrogen use through cap on synthetic fertiliser (190 kg N/ha/year)
• From July 2023, all dairy cattle and pigs must be excluded from waterways more than a metre wide
|Within five years (2025)||• All cattle, pigs and deer must be excluded from waterways in low-slope areas, some hill country wetlands, and all areas where there are intensive practices
• Minimum 3m setbacks from rivers and streams
• Mandatory and enforceable freshwater farm plans in place across most farms
• Requirements for real-time measuring and reporting of data on water use enter into force in two, four and six years
• New planning process for freshwater – regional plans
• New or updated regional plans are notified by 2024
The summary document of the Action for Healthy Waterways provides more information and detail on these five components. In particular, the timing and roll-out of the above components.
There is detailed information about the reforms on the Ministry for the Environment website. This information includes material tailored for specific parties (e.g. iwi, regional councils and different types of farmers). Furthermore, the website contains information on the costs and benefits; including central government funding initiatives.
These reforms show that central government are taking a more prescriptive and directive role in freshwater management. The introduction of a national cap/bottom line on the use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser of 190 kg/hectare/year signals a central government willingness to setting quantifiable input controls – we observe this input approach is in contrast to the output approaches generally adopted by regional councils. We note the government has not decided on a national cap/bottom line for dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN), and plans to continue working on this limit for another year. In reading the Cabinet Paper on this matter, it highlights the difficulty in setting a national limit which does not take into account local (catchment) characteristics.
Significant work will be required by Regional Councils and communities to implement the new package announced. In particular, the requirement to change or develop new regional plans by the end of 2024 and final decisions by 2026/2027 will be a substantial challenge. Some regional councils have still not fully implemented the first National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2011 (over nine years ago). While a more expedient plan-making process is proposed, the capacity of Regional Councils and communities to deliver on these processes and outcomes will be difficult. Central government has signalled a more hands-on role with Regional Councils, though limited details are available on this aspect.
The government has indicated that more detail on this reform package will be developed and released over the next year. The key elements are:
If you have questions about how these changes will affect you, your organisation or your clients, Boffa Miskell’s freshwater specialists are here to help.
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22 June 2020