Action announced for “a noticeable improvement in water quality”

The quality of rain water in New Zealand is pretty much pristine, but after it falls and flows past our towns and through our farms and industries it deteriorates, sometimes to an alarming degree.

The is probably near universal support for improving the quality of water in our creeks and rivers, lakes, inlets and lagoons, and on our beaches.

Actually water quality does not need to be improved so much as degradation needs to be drastically reduced.

Aims are a bit vague – “promising a noticeable improvement in water quality within five years” – but should be widely supported.

Minister of the Environment David Parker:


Taking action to improve water quality

The Government today is announcing its next steps to improve the state of our waterways, promising a noticeable improvement in water quality within five years.

“Clean water is our birthright. Local rivers and lakes should be clean enough for our children to swim in, and put their head under, without getting crook,” Environment Minister David Parker said.

“There will be a focus on at-risk catchments so as to halt the decline. We’re not going to leave the hard issues for future generations.”

David Parker and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor today released the Government’s blueprint to improve freshwater quality. It also sets out a new approach to the Māori/Crown relationship that will acknowledge Māori interests in fair access to water to develop their land.

“New Zealanders value our rivers and lakes. More than 80 per cent are committed to improving water quality for the benefit of future generations and they want central and local government, farmers and businesses to do more,” David Parker said at a function in Parliament to launch the new work programme.

“New rules will be in place by 2020 to stop the degradation of freshwater quality – a new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and a new National Environmental Standard.

“The rules will include controls on the excesses of some intensive land use practices. Our remaining wetlands and estuaries will be better protected.

“We will drive good management practices on farms and in urban areas.”

“We are also amending the Resource Management Act to enable regional councils to more quickly implement water quality and quantity limits,” David Parker said.

“We know Māori share the same interests as the rest of New Zealand in improving water quality and ensuring fair access to water resources.”

Minister for Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti Kelvin Davis, said both Māori and the Crown are committed to Te Mana o te Wai.

“We are committed to a substantive discussion on how to address Maori interests, by taking practical steps to address constraints on Māori land development.”

David Parker said the Government’s approach to solving these issues is engaging leading New Zealanders who care about our freshwater – environmental NGOs, Māori, farming leaders, scientists, Regional Council experts and others.

“Already, we are working with the primary sector and regional councils in the most at-risk catchments. I recently visited the Aparima River in Southland where the farming community is leading a project to get all 600 land managers in the catchment following better farming practices.”

Alongside work to tackle climate change, reduce waste, and protect our natural biodiversity, today’s release of the freshwater work programme shows this Government is determined to protect our environment for future New Zealanders.

Damien O’Connor said New Zealanders all agree our natural resources must be used wisely.

“Primary sectors are crucial to an environmentally-sustainable, high-value economy that supports the wellbeing of all New Zealanders. This is why we must grow a sustainable and productive primary sector within environmental limits.

“Many in the sector are already working hard to protect the natural resources they depend on, and recognise the importance of enhancing our reputation as a trusted producer of the finest food and fibre products. The workstreams set out today recognise the importance of accelerating this good work.”

The documents Essential Freshwater Agenda and Shared interests in Freshwater can be read on the Ministry for the Environment website at: http://www.mfe.govt.nz/fresh-water/essential-freshwater-agenda

Targeted action and investment in at-risk catchments, including accelerating the implementation of Good Farming Practice Principles and identifying options for tree planting through the One Billion Trees programme.

A new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management by 2020, to ensure all aspects of ecosystem health are managed, and address risks, for example by providing greater direction on how to set limits on resource use, and better protection of wetlands and estuaries.

A new National Environmental Standard for Freshwater Management by 2020, to regulate activities that put water quality at risk, such as intensive winter grazing, hill country cropping and feedlots.

Amendments to the Resource Management Act within the next 12 months to review consents in order to more quickly implement water quality and quantity limits; and to strengthen enforcement tools for improving environmental compliance.

Decisions on how to manage allocation of nutrient discharges, informed by discussion and engagement with interested parties.

Involvement of interested parties in testing and advising on policy options through a network of advisory groups; Kahui Wai Māori, the Science and Technical Advisory Group, and the Freshwater Leaders Group.


See also: Freshwater plan to explore Māori and Crown shared interests

The Government plan announced today to improve freshwater quality acknowledges that water quality cannot be addressed without a concurrent and substantive discussion with Māori, Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti Minister Kelvin Davis said

Environment Minister wants to regulate to force cow destocking

Yesterday the Environment Minister David Parker said in a Q&A interview that environmental regulations were needed to push down the number of cows in New Zealand.

Asked whether regulations would force farmers to destock Parker said “In some areas, it will”.

He says that the Government has won the political battle in a representative democracy so can do what they want – but they still may need the support of NZ First.

Corin Dann You did promise a lot, in Opposition, on water and on cleaning up our rivers, making them swimmable. Will you deliver on that?

David Parker Most certainly. I’ve spent a lot of my life trying to fight for environmental causes. This is my last time through cabinet, and I’ll have failed as a politician if I don’t use my position now to stop this getting…

Corin Dann So, what does success look like?

David Parker Success, in the short term, looks like stopping the degradation getting worse everywhere; within five years, having measureable improvements; and then, over the succeeding generation, getting back to where we used to be.

Corin Dann So an admirable goal, but the question is — how will you do it? Now, you have a— you’ve talked about beefing up the current guidelines, the national policy statement on water. How far will you go? And I guess the key question is here — will you cap the number of cows that can be in a certain paddock, depending on nutrient levels? In other words, potentially force farmers to destock?

David Parker Well, cow numbers have already peaked and are going down, but yes, in some areas, the number of cows per hectare is higher than the environment can sustain. That won’t be done through a raw cap on cow numbers; it will be done on nutrient limits, the amount of nutrient that can be lost from a farm to a waterway, because it’s not just a dairy cow issue.

Corin Dann But it will have the same effect, though, won’t it?

David Parker In some areas, it will. I mean, that’s one of the really difficult issues that we’ve got work being done on at the moment by both my own ministry, but the Land and Water Forum and various NGOs. How do you allocate the right to discharge nutrient where you’ve got more than the environment can sustain between those who are currently doing it and those who want to do it with undeveloped land?

And Parker said that farmers would not be compensated:

Corin Dann …you’re going to have to force some farmers in some areas, depending on those conditions, to destock. Now, does that open up you do legal action? Do they get compensation?

David Parker No, you don’t compensate people for stopping pollution. Just because you could pollute last year doesn’t mean to say you should be allowed to do it or paid to stop doing it.

This may help the environment, but what about regional economies?

Corin Dann Have you done the work that shows what the economic impact for some, particularly dairying regions, would be?

David Parker We haven’t done an analysis of what the economic effects would be. But it’s very, very difficult to model, because second-best from the farmer perspective may still be very close to the same outcome profit-wise.

I wonder if they have done an analysis of what the environmental effects would be. Maybe that’s very difficult to model too, so they just do what they think might work and too bad for the farmers affected.

Corin Dann But how are you going to make farmers change if they don’t want to?

David Parker Well, the economics will drive that change where there is a high-value land use. Where economics don’t, regulation will.

There’s only three ways to change behaviour — education, regulation and price.

We fought an election on this issue. We’ve got a representative democracy. We’ve won the political battle. Now it’s about implementation. Most of the farming sector agree with that. There is the occasional outlier. One of the Federated Farmers heads from the Wairarapa during the last election denied that dairy farming caused pollution of rivers. So there are some people who are in denial. Now, those people will have to be regulated to do the right thing, because they may not be willing to do it voluntarily. That’s the purpose of environmental regulation.

I think there is fairly universal agreement that the environment needs to be treated and protected better.

We’ve got a representative democracy. But that doesn’t necessarily mean Parker has won the political battle yet.

Labour may not care about forcing some farmers out of business, and the Greens have  wanted lower cow numbers, but National and probably NZ First could be quite reluctant to impact too severely on farming in the regions.

This wasn’t covered by the Labour-NZ First coalition agreement. The only related mentions:

Environment

  • If the Climate Commission determines that agriculture is to be included in the ETS,
    then upon entry, the free allocation to agriculture will be 95% but with all revenues from
    this source recycled back into agriculture in order to encourage agricultural innovation,
    mitigation and additional planting of forestry.
  • No resource rentals for water in this term of Parliament.
  • Higher water quality standards for urban and rural using measurements which take into
    account seasonal differences.

So no agreement on destocking regulations. Of course they have kept there more detailed agreement secret.

Government respond to Little’s Pike River pledge

Yesterday Opposition leader Andrew Little said he would table a bill in Parliament removing liability from the directors of Solid Energy so that the Pike River Mine can be re-entered.

He said the government claimed the mine could not be re-entered because of the liability risk, so on the first day of the new parliamentary year he would seek leave to table his bill.

That would exonerate Solid Energy’s directors from being held liable for any harm to people taking part in the mine re-entry, he said.

Mr Little said the victims’ families were promised everything that could be done to recover their loved ones’ bodies would be done, and the government needed to follow through on that.

– Little bill to enable Pike River re-entry

Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith responded today.

RNZ: Govt: Labour’s Pike River plan ‘hypocritical’

The Labour Party’s attitude to re-entering the Pike River Mine is hypocritical and unsafe, according to the government.

Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith accused Mr Little of a dangerous and contradictory position.

“It would be extraordinary to make an exemption from the Health and Safety at Work Act at the very place where 29 workers lost their lives from inadequate standards that triggered the new law,” Mr Smith said.

“This is a bid by Mr Little to outplay [New Zealand First leader] Winston Peters politically rather than taking a principled stand about the importance of a consistent approach to workplace safety.”

Dr Smith said his advice showed the mine had 100,000 cubic metres of methane and was likely to have a residual source of heat as well.

This would be capable of triggering an explosion if there was a source of oxygen.

The minister added there was a risk of rock falls from unstable strata fractured by the 2010 explosions.

“There is a significant difference between someone saying re-entry might be possible compared with company directors taking legal responsibility,” Dr Smith said.

There’s been a lot of other criticism of Little’s move. He lobbied for stronger safety provisions in the current law, and now wants to put them aside to allow re-entry into an unsafe environment.

Some of the Pike River families have tried to escalate mine re-entry into an election issue, but it’s early in the year and it will be difficult to sustain the party posturing.