New rules in place to restore healthy rivers

New rules to protect and restore New Zealand’s freshwater passed into law today.

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.

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 3 September), 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. 

The new national direction complements the Government’s $1.1 billion Jobs for Nature package in the 2020 Budget. Last month, the Prime Minister announced 23 projects to be funded from this programme.

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said the regulations and stimulus funding will deliver jobs and environmental benefits, and support the value of our primary exports.

“Our farmers and growers play a vital role in New Zealand’s rural communities and economy and will do for the foreseeable future. 

“Our long-term future and brand is linked to the health of our waterways. This is because overseas consumers increasingly want greater assurances that the food and fibre they buy is produced in a sustainable way – and they’ll pay a premium for it. 

“Farmers get that and many have done a huge amount of work to improve their practices over the last 20 years. Some of them are leading the way in restoring our waterways. Our farmers understand that putting the hard yards in now will protect our waterways for many generations to come.” 

The Government has confirmed special provisions for areas of Pukekohe and Horowhenua, where the growing of fresh vegetables is critical to national supply. Councils will be allowed to maintain water quality below some national bottom lines while ensuring that improvements are made. These provisions will expire after 10 years, or earlier if a tailored legally binding solution for these areas can be reached.

“The Government will be working with councils and relevant iwi and hāpu to achieve this, so that contaminant loads can be reduced and bottom lines met over time, while safeguarding the domestic supply of vegetables. Unquestionably, water quality in these catchments needs to improve substantially,” David Parker said.

“This policy will help retain local jobs and businesses but it will also provide an incentive for vegetable growers and other land users to use nitrogen more efficiently, and to explore the use of alternative ways of reducing nutrient discharges,” Damien O’Connor said.

The gazette notice can be accessed here:  https://www.gazette.govt.nz/notice/id/2020-go3443

Notes for editors

The new national direction is the culmination of the Government’s Essential Freshwater reform programme over the last three years.

A multi-agency Water Taskforce led by Ministry for the Environment developed the regulations, working with four advisory groups involving the primary sector, scientists and academics, Māori, environmental groups and local government. In 2019, extensive national public consultation was held and a record 17,500 submissions were received.

An Independent Advisory Panel chaired by retired Environment Court Judge David Sheppard assessed the submissions and recommended changes.

Extensive economic, scientific and social impact analysis was commissioned from expert agencies, and this work was additionally peer reviewed.

The four advisory groups also provided further advice as the details in the regulations were finalised.