Water is without doubt, critical to our well-being and to our posterity as a nation. Most of us might also agree that all too often, we New Zealanders do a less than brilliant job of managing such a precious resource. Some suggest we are saved from witnessing the worst results of our poor attitudes to water, by the fact that it keeps falling in abundant quantities from the sky. But water isn’t always abundant is it? As our planet experiences more extremes of weather, the abundance some of us have been used to, has turned to scarcity. In other places, too much of a good thing isn’t always desirable. In 2011, for example, Nelson had a pre-Christmas deluge of water that scoured out landslips across a wide area, destroying homes, businesses, and hurting livelihoods.
The Land and Water Forum came about in 2009, because a group of people believed we could do better, a lot better, at managing water. For more than three years, the Forum, supported first by the National government’s Nick Smith, then Ministers Amy Adams and David Carter, built an unprecedented accord among its stakeholders, in support of a new fresh water management framework for New Zealand – a framework that is more transparent, efficient and fair, and will help resolve historic issues and provide certainty for the future (L&W Forum Nov 2012).
The third and concluding report of the Land and Water Forum has been released this week (15 Nov 2012). The first report set out a blueprint for land and water management reform. The second and third reports deal with ways to implement that reform. The third report is concerned with managing within limits. This is dependent on setting objectives, and determining the limits of a catchment – the subject of the second report. In that second report, the forum recommended further work to finalise a national objectives framework, and offered to carry it out. However, the government decided to seek advice on this issue themselves, and they have yet to finalise a framework. That the ministers sought to exclude the forum from this work is disappointing, as a sensible and widely agreed national framework of objectives is crucial to the improvement of freshwater governance in New Zealand. If iwi, farmers, other industry, and the public do not buy in to the framework’s objectives, then there are potential negative implications for the forum’s recommendations.
The report’s authors note that the process of reaching consensus is never easy, and that there is one split recommendation, where alternative courses of action are offered, as consensus was not entirely reached in the collaborative planning processes. The authors further urge that the government respond to the three reports as a whole package. Implementing them in part, say the authors, risks the loss of consensus and the constituency for change which it has generated.
I took part in this collaborative process that began in 2009. A welcome outcome has been the release in 2011, after years of debate, of a National Policy Statement on Fresh Water. It’s a fairly lightweight NPS, but useful all the same. On release of the NPS, the government announced a welcome $15 million injection of funds over two years for cleaning up our worst waterways. This announcement was somewhat diminished by news at the same time, that their Irrigation Acceleration Fund would attract far greater funding ($35 million over five years, and much more in the longer term) – see article Have enough farmers cleaned up their act?
A key finding of the Forum is that we should now view as false, the long-held perception that trading-off or balancing values against each other is an almost inescapable part of freshwater management. Rather, the Forum propose various ways to pursue environmental, economic and social benefits at once, including through accessing new water through efficiency gains and new infrastructure, adding value to our products and services, science and innovation, and leveraging off New Zealand’s solid environmental performance in export markets. The change proposed encourages people, enterprises and agencies to participate actively and collaboratively to seek and implement local solutions that are win-win for all parties.
The groups that came together to contribute to this Forum were people from all walks of life, and from near every part of the country – with public engagements held in 17 centres. A website has kept contributors updated on progress, along with regular emails, as the forum has achieved each milestone. This has been a satisfying process and one I hope government will have the wisdom to pursue in other areas. Community very often lies at the heart of finding satisfying solutions to unwieldy problems.
Here’s all the work of the Land and Water Forum to date, and some related documents. While acknowledging it has concluded its government mandate, the Forum propose meeting in July 2013 to debate the government’s response to their recommendations. Facts and figures above are from the report: Land and Water Forum, 2012. Third Report of the Land and Water Forum: Managing Water Quality and Allocating Water. I acknowledge the Land and Water Forum website for the material that follows.
Third Report of the Land and Water Forum (November 2012):
Third Report of the Land and Water Forum (PDF 4 MB)
Press release (PDF 72 KB)
Second Report of the Land and Water Forum (May 2012):
Second Report of the Land and Water Forum (PDF 1.75 MB)
Press release (PDF 202 KB)
Phase 2 (September 2011-November 2012):
- Terms of reference for Land and Water Forum (pdf)
- Terms of reference for each working group (pdf)
- Cabinet Papers
Report to Ministers following regional engagement meetings (April 2011):
‘A Fresh Start for Freshwater’ Report (September 2010):
Phase 1 (2009-2010):
Terms of Reference:
Forum Chair’s speeches (and other general documents):
Updates from the Chair:
Update – March 2013 has seen the release of the government’s freshwater reform proposals, with feedback due by 8 April 2013:
Overview of 2013 reforms
Actions relate to three key areas:
- Planning as a community – introducing a collaborative planning option as an alternative to the current system under the Resource Management Act 1991.
- A National Objectives Framework that requires national minimum environmental states in rivers and lakes for ecosystem health and human contact.
- Managing within water quality and quantity limits – requiring councils to better account for how all water in a region is used, including how much is taken and what is discharged into it.
or write to:
Water Reform Directorate
PO Box 10362
Comments must be received by 5.00pm Monday 8 April 2013.
The government’s freshwater reform proposals are part of a wider reform programme encompassing the Resource Management and Local Government Acts. National priorities are changing, as part of the ‘streamlining’ of New Zealand’s environmental legislation, with resultant changes to planning and consenting regimes. Take a look at what’s proposed: Resource management reform phase two.
Click here to listen to a discussion (podcast – 11 March 2013) on the proposed changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA 1991). Radio NZ National’s Kathryn Ryan interviews Gary Taylor, Chairman, Environmental Defence Society; Kerry Knight, Director of Equinox Capital; and former property lawyer and Environment Minister Amy Adams.
- Freshwater reform 2013 and beyond (mfe.govt.nz)
- Land & Water Forum’s final report generally welcomed (homepaddock.wordpress.com)
- Report leaves water rights issue up to Govt and Maori (nzherald.co.nz)
- Govt hints at charges for water (nzherald.co.nz)
- Water crisis: Going with the flow (nzherald.co.nz)
- Mixed reaction to Land and Water Forum report (radionz.co.nz)