EDS calls for greater urgency in addressing New Zealand’s fresh water

EDS has released its submission on the Government’s consultation document “Next steps for fresh water”.

“Implementation of New Zealand’s fresh water management system needs to be re-energised,” said EDS CEO Gary Taylor.

“There is a widening gulf between the time horizons contemplated for fresh water improvements in the National Policy Statement Fresh Water and public expectations.  Water quality throughout the country is still going downhill and if we don’t act fast it is going to become increasingly difficult to halt and to reverse that decline.

“The Consultation Document lacks the commitment to change that is needed.  The Government needs to place urgency on getting the National Policy Statement’s fresh water objective-setting process into gear across the country and it needs to provide strong direction on how to operate within that system. Target dates are far too loose and need tightening to effect improvement in a timely way.

“Of real concern is that the Consultation Document is silent on some thorny issues that need to be addressed, said Mr Taylor.

“It is time for a serious discussion on putting a price on fresh water.  It is important that people understand that pricing does not relate to ownership but puts a charge on using a public resource for private gain.  The revenue from the charge should go directly into the Fresh Water Improvement Fund to accelerate clean-up efforts.

“We also contend that a proportion of the funds set aside to assist irrigation should be reallocated to the Clean-up fund to boost the pace of improvement of seriously degraded freshwater systems.

“The issues that the Consultation Document does address also need a lot more work.

“The changes proposed to the National Policy Statement objectives would require assessment of whether water quality is being maintained or improved within a “fresh water management unit” instead of across the regional scale, which is good.  However there is no proposal to delete the requirement that the “overall’ quality within that unit be maintained and improved.  The Environment Court has rejected that the ‘overs and unders’ approach, where decline is ok in one area if it is counterbalanced with an improvement in another, that “overall” implies.  “Overall” needs to go.

“It also appears that defining “maintain” as staying within an attribute band would allow significant degradation to occur.  This is unacceptable.  EDS has proposed an alternative definition based on the current state of the water body at the time fresh water objectives are set. 

“The proposals relating to good management practice and technical efficiency standards are also weak.  Good management practice is the equivalent to a social licence to operate.  There should be an expectation that all water users and all dischargers are operating at GMP level as a minimum, not only those in catchments in poor condition. 

“One positive proposal is that MCI should be given serious consideration as a new, nationally applicable water quality measure.  The National Policy Statement provides for ecosystem health as a national value and a biological indicator like MCI is crucial in measuring whether that is being achieved. 

“The Government has previously rejected including MCI despite evidence supporting its validity.  It is critical that this time round that it approaches the debate with an open mind.

“The Consultation Document is another step forward but the Government needs to show greater leadership and to inject some urgency into change,” concluded Mr Taylor. 

EDS’s submission is available on its website www.eds.org.nz

More: Gary Taylor 021 895 896

Download full statement (pdf)

Last updated at 12:50PM on April 21, 2016