Freshwater in NZ – Auditor General unimpressed by ‘forgiving’ Regional Councils

Regional Councils are too forgiving – and our waterways are the worse for it. Kevin Parris from the OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate is undertaking a report on water quality in OECD nations. Interviewed on Radio NZ National this morning, he was in general agreement with the findings of Auditor General about the deteriorating state of water in New Zealand.

Forty per cent of dairy farmers do not comply with our environmental regulations, according to the OECD data. New Zealand has reasonable water quality in general, but we are at risk of serious decline if we continue to ‘forgive’ polluting dairy farmers and others, including some Councils, who breach environmental limits.

Media release from Nick Smith:

“The Government concurs with the Auditor-General’s conclusion that while overall water quality in New Zealand rates well internationally, the deterioration in some areas is of concern and needs addressing.

That’s why we have put in place a National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, established the 62-strong Land and Water Forum, doubled fines for farmers who don’t comply with consents, introduced regulations for metering water takes and provided a fivefold increase in funding to clean up our lakes and rivers.

The review by the Office of the Auditor-General into four regional councils – Waikato Regional Council, Taranaki Regional Council, Horizons Regional Council, and Environment Southland – reinforces the critical role regional councils play in freshwater management.

It backs up the requirement in the Freshwater NPS for robust water quality limits that reflect the natural variation throughout different regions.

It recommends that regional councils be given guidance material to help them implement the NPS, work which the Environment Ministry is advancing.

It underlines the need for good monitoring and reporting of our freshwater resources. The Government’s proposed Environmental Reporting Act will strengthen the credibility of New Zealand’s clean, green brand by requiring independent, regular and nationally consistent reporting on the state of our environment, including our waterways.

This is a good report that provides important guidance on the challenge New Zealand faces over freshwater management. The Government will progress its recommendations and we urge regional councils to pick up on the improvements in this report.” END of National’s Media Release

Overgrazing - Then!

The particular improvement we could start with is for Regional Councils to enforce regulations on water quality, according to the Auditor General. However, OECD researcher Kevin Parris points out that education and communication are critical adjuncts to regulation. If we don’t help dairy farmers, in particular, to learn new ways of working – nutrient budgeting for example – then regulation will be less than effective.

A brilliant example of what can be achieved by engaging and educating communities, and farmers in particular, is the Lake Taupo Restoration Project. This world-leading project receives high praise from Kevin Parris. Its aim is to restore high water quality in Lake Taupo. Algal blooms have been a longstanding problem, with growth stimulated by nitrogen leaching into the lake and from direct discharges. This project sets a goal of reducing nitrogen input into the lake by an ambitious 20 per cent by 2020 – and they are already on-track. Waikato Regional Council’s ‘Variation 5’ policy has introduced a requirement for consents to farm – just one strand of the work underway to reach the target. Variation 5 helps protect water quality in Lake Taupo by capping (or benchmarking) nutrient levels – reducing the amount of the nutrient nitrogen getting into the lake.

Starborough Flaxbourne Soil Conservation Project

And Now! Happy stock in Eastern Marlborough

If we want clean rivers and streams, we need more projects like Lake Taupo, like Starborough Flaxbourne (see earlier post). We need to put back the investment in Landcare – they are experts at working with communities to change land and water management practices for the better. Take a look at the post on Starborough Flaxbourne, and check out the story of the Sherry River Catchment – an inspiring example of communities working together to change the fate of the Motueka River. To date, the results are astonishing – step by step Landcare’s Barbara Stuart and the team are making a difference – showing we can protect the environment AND make money too. (The Sherry Catchment Group’s story)

Get the book – PDF published online by the NZ Landcare Trust for the Sherry River Catchment Group, October 2010: (Lake Taupo Protection makes solid progress) (Another successful Landcare community project. Thanks to the efforts of the local community and investment from dairy farmers, in October 2007 shellfish harvest days were lifted to 79% – a huge increase on the unsupportable 28% back in 2002 when the project began. The results reflect significantly improved water quality and economic returns.)

Here’s the full report from the Office of the Auditor General (OAG), Managing freshwater quality: Challenges for Regional Councils (PDF 2.3MB, 92 pages):

And here’s the Executive Summary (web page):

About robynmmoore

Anything to do with people and the environment and I'm interested! I have been writing and commenting about education, the environment and other community-related matters since 2006. I'm a compulsive researcher. In 2009, I finished a thesis on Kapiti's water issues and am still researching outcomes there. This website and the work I do as a trustee for the Whitireia Foundation are part of my aspiration to contribute to 'shaping more sustainable communities'...also the title of my thesis. Look it up - it's free at
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9 Responses to Freshwater in NZ – Auditor General unimpressed by ‘forgiving’ Regional Councils

  1. Nice post. One thing, i’m running Win 7 with the Firefox 4 Beta browser and your columns are overlapping a little. Though you may want to fix it

  2. I don¡¯t even know how I ended up here, but I thought this post was great. I don’t know who you are but certainly you’re going to a famous blogger if you aren’t already 😉 Cheers!

  3. Kasey Stemme says:

    You are a very bright individual!

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