Essential freshwater – lots of work to do

9 Oct 18

The Ministers for the Environment and Agriculture have announced the Government’s programme of work for the management of freshwater for the next two years.

The Essential freshwater: Healthy water, fairly allocated document is available on the Ministry for the Environment’s website.

The most significant changes have previously been well signalled by Minister Parker and include an update of the National Policy Statement and the development of National Environmental Standards. These changes would likely result in rules restricting the drainage of wetlands or piping of urban streams. In addition national rules could also regulate intensive winter grazing, hill country cropping and feed lots. The ability for regional councils to review existing consents will be strengthened. Rules for nutrient allocation will also be considered.

Any new regulation will be consulted on and most of this consultation will occur in 2019. Anderson Lloyd will provide regular updates as the Government’s work programme progresses.

The imposition of national rules is a major change from the attempts at consensus planning in the form of the Land and Water Forum. The previous Government provided for new regulations for stock access to waterways but these have not yet been promulgated.


Essential freshwater work programme

The Essential Freshwater work programme (Work Programme) has the following three key objectives 1Ministry for the Environment and Ministry for Primary Industries, Essential Freshwater: Healthy Water, Fairly Allocated (2018), page 7:

1   To stop further degradation and loss – by taking a series of actions to stop the state of freshwater resources, waterways and ecosystems from degrading and to make immediate improvements to freshwater quality;

2   To reverse past damage – by promoting restoration activity to bring freshwater resources, waterways and ecosystems to a healthy state within a generation, including through a new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and other legal instruments; and

3   To address water allocation issues – by working to achieve efficient and fair allocation of freshwater and nutrient discharges, having regard to all interests including Māori, and existing and potential new users.


How are these objectives going to be met?

The Work Programme proposes to meet these key objectives through the following work streams 2Page 12:

  • At-risk catchments;
  • National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPSFM) amendments;
  • National Environment Standard for Freshwater Management (Freshwater NES);
  • Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA) amendments;
  • Allocation of freshwater resources; and
  • Future policy framework.


At-risk catchments

The Land and Water Forum recommended a focus on at-risk catchments. Assessments of catchments are occurring and this work will continue for the remainder of 2018 before determining if regulatory steps are required.


NSPFM amendments

The Government has begun work on potential amendments to the NPSFM. Minister Parker prefers the approach taken by Judge Sheppard in the Board of Inquiry considering a NPS from 2008-2010 over the NPS that was subsequently promulgated under the National led Government.

The NPSFM is likely to have amendments in areas including ecosystem health, new attributes (such as sediment and dissolved oxygen), better protection for wetlands and sensitive downstream environments, and policy around at-risk catchments 3Page 13.


New Freshwater NES

The Work Programme includes introducing a Freshwater NES. There are a wide range of issues being considered for inclusion in a NES. Issues that could be the subject of future rules via a NES include nutrient allocation and a default regime for ecological flow and levels where none are set by regional plans. Issues that are more certain to be included in a NES are intensive winter grazing, hill country cropping and feed lots.


RMA amendments

An Amendment Bill to the RMA is to be introduced to Parliament later this year or early 2019. These changes will relate to a regional council’s ability to review existing consents and strengthen enforcement tools. This focus on enforcement will be supported by the soon to be created Compliance Oversight Unit within the Ministry for the Environment which had $3.1M of funding in the 2018 budget.

Further changes to the RMA will be announced and progressed separately and may include a change to restrict appeal rights on water plans.


Allocation of freshwater resources

This work stream requires further development and consultation. It is clear that the initial focus will be on the discharge of nitrogen. This is likely to then be extended to phosphorus and sediment.


Future policy framework

The Government is seeking to have a policy framework that has the following elements 4Page 21:

  • Freshwater objectives and limits set by catchment and integrated catchment plans with regional councils continuing to give effect to the NPSFM and Freshwater NES;
  • Ensure good practice is applied across different industries in regards to the discharge of pollutants, water-sensitive design and sediment management;
  • Drive more fundamental change where good practice is not sufficient, potentially by a mix of regulatory restrictions and economic drivers such as pollution charges or trading regimes;
  • Better target support from government to aid landowners and others with change (i.e. training);
  • Invest in developing and disseminating solutions and target existing science and research efforts for funding;
  • Improve accuracy of monitoring, modelling and measurement of discharges (including an additional $5 million investment in OVERSEER); and
  • Support councils to undertake their roles and systematically monitor performance.


Want to know more?

For further information see the Ministry for the Environment website. This work programme will result in significant changes to resource consent requirements for discharges to freshwater in particular. However, this document does not include the detail required for consultation and that detail is yet to come.

Please contact our specialist resource management team if you have any questions about Essential freshwater: Healthy water, fairly allocated document and what this might mean for you.


PDF version: Essential freshwater – Lots of work to do

1 Ministry for the Environment and Ministry for Primary Industries, Essential Freshwater: Healthy Water, Fairly Allocated (2018), page 7
2 Page 12
3 Page 13
4 Page 21