8 April, 2011
Speech to Lake Water Quality Society Symposium
Kia ora hui hui tatou katoa
I am delighted to join you for this symposium today, and I want to congratulate the Lake Water Quality Society on its role and for this event.
This morning I want to talk about the Government's agenda to improve freshwater quality in New Zealand. This includes: closer collaboration; increased funding; stronger central government direction; improved regulation; the need for better science; and a set of consistent and transparent reporting that will ensure we can monitor progress.
Before I touch on these, I want to acknowledge the many participants here, the people of Te Arawa and a special welcome to our overseas guests Bo Frank, Mayor of Vaxjo in Sweden, and Dr Elena Irwin of Ohio State University and thank them for their contribution.
Can I also acknowledge Rotorua MP Todd McClay, who has been a constant and effective advocate in the Government for the Rotorua Lakes.
I welcome the theme of your conference, Fix a lake and grow a city, in particular the topic you have asked me to speak on – planning for growth. Because it’s planning for growth, in terms of how New Zealand can get the best out of freshwater, that has been forefront of my mind as Environment Minister.
But first, I’d like to acknowledge what’s been happening here on a local level to clean up the Rotorua lakes. I have a personal interest in this from my time as a Master's Hydrology student at the University of Canterbury Engineering School studying stratification and mixing in Lake Rotoiti.
Rotorua is central to tourism in our country, and its iconic lakes are a key part of its attraction to more than half a million international visitors a year.
With tourism one of New Zealand’s biggest export earners, the Government has a key stake in the continuing success of Rotorua as a tourist destination.
The Government also has a key stake in the cleanup of these iconic lakes. This is demonstrated by our commitment of more than $72 million to the Rotorua Lakes Protection and Restoration Programme. This funding amounts to 50% of the total cost.
As you know, the programme focuses on addressing the different sources of nutrients entering the four lakes identified as priorities – Rotorua, Rotoiti, Okareka and Rotoehu.
Key components of the programme include sewerage works, treatment or diversion of nutrient-rich streams, capping lake sediments to lock up nutrients, construction of wetlands and changes to land management.
I’m really pleased to note the good progress being made under the cleanup programme. I particularly welcome the progress on the Rotorua District Council’s sewage reticulation projects.
Last year I had the pleasure of visiting the Ohau Channel Diversion wall which is predicted to reduce harmful algal blooms by 40% within five years. And while it’s early days, the clarity of Lake Rotoiti has improved markedly since the wall was completed.
I know that considerable effort is being put into finding cost effective ways of achieving the programme’s large nutrient reduction target of 170 tonnes of nitrogen per year from land use change for Lake Rotorua.
As you will be aware the Government is keen on promoting collaborative approaches to addressing environmental issues. I was greatly encouraged to hear of the engagement now taking place between the Council, sector groups and land owners to tackle these difficult issues. It is our best chance of making progress.
I’ve been informed that following extensive discussions with representatives of the dairy farmers in the catchment, a significant industry commitment has been made through Dairy NZ to assist in finding and promoting appropriate land use solutions.
In addition to this, the Council is developing a pilot grant scheme to trial a more effective way of engaging with landowners within the Rotorua catchment.
I look forward to further progress being outlined in the Intervention Packages for Lake Rotorua that is being developed. This will determine a cost-effective and efficient package of new and existing measures to ensure that no more than the sustainable level of nutrients enters the lake.
The challenges you face in Rotorua are symptomatic of the far larger task we have in improving freshwater quality throughout New Zealand. Our goal has got to be ensuring other significant lakes do not deteriorate to the point where we face the sort of issues over eutrophication that has occurred here in Rotorua.
This Government has made improving freshwater management an important priority.
The importance of freshwater
The importance of freshwater – both to our economy and the environment that the economy is based upon – cannot be overstated.
Freshwater is New Zealand’s key strategic and productive asset.
It is what gives our $11 billion a year dairy industry its competitive advantage. It is pivotal to our clean, green brand and our $8 billion a year tourism industry. Add in the contribution to our meat, horticulture, cropping, fresh water aquaculture and wine industries and we are looking at more than $30 billion per annum.
Water is to New Zealand what minerals are to Australia. Managed wisely, our fresh water resource, unlike minerals, will be available for generations to come.
But freshwater is so much more than just a commodity. It has cultural significance to Maori. It is also what makes our great Kiwi lifestyle – the fishing, swimming, kayaking and rafting.
On an international scale New Zealand’s water quality is very good. The 2010 Yale and Columbia University Environmental Performance Index ranks us second in the world only to Iceland with a water quality index of 99.2 out of 100.
However, this national index overlooks areas of increasing problems. Many of our lowland streams and our shallow lakes, especially in areas of intensive farming, have significantly deteriorated.
The problem is that water has been so plentiful that in the past we have not had to be too sophisticated in how we have allocated or managed it.
And now there is accumulating evidence that our current system of water management is failing – to the detriment of both our economy and environment.
It is not our view that the RMA framework is fundamentally broken. The Act has worked well in vastly improving many point source discharges. The real problems are in how we deal with the diffuse, incremental pollution and this is where we need to do considerably better.
I was pleased to see that this is being addressed in Rotorua with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council’s proposed Regional Policy Statement providing a robust, integrated approach to the management of the region’s natural and physical resources.
The Regional Policy Statement now requires a managed reduction of nutrient discharges in excess of the allowable limit for the Rotorua-Te Arawa Lakes. It has also replaced the high level water allocation principles with more specific matters to be attended to in allocating and reallocating water.
Report of the Land and Water Forum
It is clear nationally that reform is needed on how we as a country manage our freshwater resources. That is why the Government is taking a fresh lead.
The Government’s programme is about finding durable solutions to issues of water quality, allocation and storage which are essential to a healthy environment and economic growth.
This is in keeping with the Government’s Bluegreen belief that economic growth and improving the environment can and must go hand in hand.
In 2009, the Government embarked on its Fresh Start for Freshwater programme.
A key part of this is the work led by the Land and Water Forum.
Its mission was to build a consensus view on the best mix of economic, environmental, cultural and social benefits from New Zealand’s water.
I stated at the time, that if agreement could be reached, even on just a few pressing issues, then it will enable us to make real progress.
It is an extraordinary achievement when 58 very diverse stakeholder groups can come together and agree on a way forward on such a vexed issue as fresh water management in New Zealand.
Following the receipt of the Land and Water Forum’s report in September last year, the Government asked the Forum to take its report to the New Zealand public and seek their views on its recommendations.
And today I am pleased to announce that earlier this week the Forum have reported back to me and the Minister for Agriculture with its final report on the completion of this public engagement.
I can confirm that what the Forum heard around the country has led them to confirm the key conclusions of its report.
I’ve been informed that there was agreement on the need for change and to ‘get on with it’ – as well as a fairly widespread agreement that the Forum had set out a sensible high-level approach to change.
Today, I am releasing the papers that the Land and Water Forum has provided to the Government. The Forum also has set out some thoughts about how those recommendations might be implemented.
The Forum’s engagement was a real success with about 1200 people attending a series of 18 public meetings held up and down the country.
The meeting in Rotorua was notable for the depth and quality of the dialogue. I believe this is testament to the investment you have made as a community in thinking about how your water resources can be better managed.
The Forum has also provided the Government with some further thoughts on the collaborative process, which I think will be useful as we consider the lessons we have learnt from this approach to dealing with complex national environmental issues.
Before I move on to talk about what the government intends to do next, it might be useful to recap some of the main themes in the Forum’s report:
- The water management system isn’t fundamentally broken, but without improvement, water quality will deteriorate and the best economic advantage of water use will be compromised.
- The major gap in the current system is there is no requirement to set, and manage limits in the amount of water that can be taken and the amount of contamination that can be released into water.
- The setting and management of limits will be crucial to future economic and environmental success.
- There needs to be more central Government support, and clearer expectations, to drive that process.
- Central Government needs to play a stronger role in partnership with local decision-makers, including iwi
- There is still a place for local level involvement in the delivery of water decisions and management.
The Government’s next steps
Now that the Forum has reported back to the Government, I am turning my mind to the Government’s response.
Without pre-empting Cabinet’s decisions on this, it’s clear to me that the response will need to cover a number of bases. It will need to:
- support responsible economic growth
- offer improved environmental performance, and
- give clearer Government direction and an effective regulatory framework
Changes of any significance will take time to achieve and therefore I expect a staged programme of reform.
The Forum’s report has confirmed to me that one of the first steps must be a National Policy Statement for freshwater management.
My officials are working on the NPS now. You can expect a public announcement on the Government’s decisions this year.
This is an important step and I am very mindful of the need to make progress.
As the Land and Water Forum notes in the report, the NPS will not and cannot do the job on its own.
It needs to be backed up by a whole range of supporting measures that will help councils and water users adjust to a new way of managing water.
We are also likely to need further policy reforms to deal with the matters that are outside the scope of an RMA-based instrument like the NPS.
An NPS will therefore only be one part of a larger government package of reforms that will cover the four key elements of good freshwater management.
- A robust governance system with the roles and responsibilities of all parties clearly defined
- The capacity to identify the quality and quantity limit of fresh water bodies
- The ability to set and enforce numeric limits on the quality and quantity
- An efficient process for allocating the resource to users to ensure water is used in the best way.
Cabinet will need to make some critical decisions to decide the direction of water reform. The Government is commissioning further work from officials as part of preparing a more comprehensive government response to the Forum’s recommendations.
I expect major changes could then be decided in 2012, with opportunity for more public input into the direction before implementation over the next five years.
I welcome the Forum’s contribution to our thinking on water reform and how to get the best environmentally and economically out of this key asset.
As the Forum has noted, this isn’t just a job for Government – all parties, including local government industry and communities, will have a part to play.
That’s why I’m so encouraged to see the good work that has been done in Rotorua from a wide range of parties to improve water quality.
Working together we will deliver on a fresh start for freshwater management in Rotorua and more broadly in New Zealand