Friday, 07 August 2020 14:00

Water reforms come at a cost

Written by  Adam Fricker
Feds water spokesperson Chris Allen. Feds water spokesperson Chris Allen.

The government’s new freshwater laws, signed off this week, have the potential to create significant unnecessary costs for ratepayers, farmers and entire communities, Federated Farmers says.

"We all want good water quality, that’s why farmers and growers have been spending time and money for decades doing all they can on-farm," Feds water spokesperson Chris Allen says.

"Millions of trees, hundreds of miles of fencing, sediment management, nitrogen controls … all these things are improving rural water quality."

Environment Minister David Parker and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor welcomed the gazetting of the new national direction on freshwater management.

"These regulations deliver on the Government’s commitment to stop further degradation, show material improvements within five years and restore our waterways to health within a generation," David Parker said.

This includes the new National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management (NPS-FM), National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-FW), stock exclusion regulations, and regulations in the measurement and reporting of water takes.

While there is still a good deal of detail Federated Farmers is working through to get a better understanding of to communicate to its members, Allen says it has concerns around the wording of the National Policy Statement.

"There is the distinct possibility of facing costly legal action as councils work out how to implement the regulations without established case law to assist in translating these directions," Allen says.

Federated Farmers members, like most other people in the community, would much prefer to see money invested in environmental projects rather than in lawyers, planners and consultants.

"Given the need for a strong agriculture sector to help in the Covid recovery, we strongly urge the government that if rules and regulations are found to problematic and not aligned with the overall intent, they will make changes as required.

"It was our hope that the government would have continued to build on the good work that farmers are doing, rather than completely resetting the discussion.”

Significant policies that now have legal backing include:

• Requiring councils to give effect to Te Mana o Te Wai by prioritising the health and wellbeing of our waterways

• Halting further loss of natural wetlands and streams

• Setting higher health standards at swimming spots

• Putting controls on high-risk farm practices such as winter grazing and feedlots

• Setting stricter controls on nitrogen pollution and new bottom lines on other measures of waterway health

• Requiring urban waterways to be cleaned up and new protections for urban streams

• Preserving and restoring the connectivity of New Zealand fish species’ habitats

• Requiring mandatory and enforceable farm environment plans

• Making real-time measuring and reporting of data on water use mandatory.

Some of the new rules will take immediate effect (from September 3), while there is a longer timeframe for others. Supporting the changes is the faster planning process for regional councils to speed up implementation of the NPS-FM, made law in June through the Resource Management Amendment Act.

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