Reforms and funding announced aimed at cleaning up waterways

The Government has announced $700m of funding and a range of regulations aimed at cleaning up waterways. This will particularly affect farming.


Cleaning up our rivers and lakes

Primary sector and other groups will be financially assisted with the implementation of the new clean water standards through a $700 million fund that will create jobs in riparian and wetland planting, removing sediments and other initiatives to prevent farm run off entering waterways.

  • Setting higher health standards at swimming spots
  • Requiring urban waterways to be cleaned up and new protections for urban streams
  • Putting controls on higher-risk farm practices such as winter grazing and feed lots
  • Setting stricter controls on nitrogen pollution and new bottom lines on other measures of waterway health
  • Ensuring faster council planning
  • Requiring mandatory and enforceable farm environment plans
  • These actions will be supported by $700m of funding

Environment Minister David Parker: “Our environmental reputation is the thing that underpins our biggest export earners – tourism and agriculture. It’s time for us to invest in cleaning up our water in order to protect the economic value add it brings.”

Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor said the package will help to increase the value of our primary exports.

“Our high-value overseas consumers want greater assurances that the food and fibre they buy is produced in a sustainable way. Clean water and sustainable farming is entwined with the economic success of the sector, it isn’t one or the other,” Damien O’Connor said.

Climate Change Minister and Green Party co-leader James Shaw welcomed the reforms and said they were the strongest protections a government has ever put in place for waterways.

The measures announced today, will stop the state of our rivers, lakes and wetlands getting worse, make a significant improvement in five years and return them to health in a generation.

Farmers in New Zealand appreciate the value of high quality water and many have done a huge amount of work to improve their practices over the last 20 years or more.

The changes apply equally to rural and urban waterways, and include specific controls on covering urban streams.

The measures include:

  • Using Te Mana o te Wai as our guiding principle, which prioritises the health of the waterway, then the needs of people and then commercial needs
  • Cleaning up our rivers and lakes
  • Setting higher health standards at swimming spots
  • Requiring urban waterways to be cleaned up and new protections for urban streams
  • Putting controls on high risk farm practices such as winter grazing and feed lots
  • Setting stricter controls on nitrogen pollution and new bottom lines on other measures of waterway health
  • Ensuring faster council planning
  • Requiring mandatory and enforceable farm environment plan
  • The package contains rapid action to stop things getting worse in the short term including controls on high risk farming practices such as winter grazing and feed lots.”
  • There will be lower e.Coli levels where – and when – people swim.
  • There will be a strengthened bottom line for nitrogen toxicity, to provide better protection for 95 per cent of freshwater species, up from 80 per cent under the previous national policy statement.
  • There will also be a cap per hectare on the use of synthetic nitrogen fertiliser, excluding vegetable growers. It will be set initially at 190 kgs/hectare/year with a review by 2023. Fertiliser use increased seven fold between 1990 and 2018.
  • Dairy farmers will be required to report annually to councils the quantity of nitrogen applied per hectare as synthetic fertiliser. Fertiliser companies will have to report on sales to ensure the overall level of use is heading in the right direction.
  • The primary sector, iwi/Māori, local government and their communities will be supported in implementing the package through the investment of more than $700 million from Budget 2020 for predominately freshwater-related activity.
  • Funding will be used to support actions like installing mini wetlands, removing sediment, riparian planting, helping farmers with stock exclusion and developing farm plans, stabilising river banks and providing for fish passage.
  • Rising nitrate levels in drinking water from aquifers has been an increasing concern in recent years. A Ministry of Health-led taskforce is assessing whether New Zealand research is needed into links between nitrate levels and human health impacts and is due to report later this year.
  • Expert specialist advisory groups helped develop the proposals, and we received over 17,500 submissions on the plan we outlined in 2019 – that’s more than any other public consultation process the Ministry for the Environment has run.
  • Concerns expressed by submitters and the primary sector, as well as the impact of COVID-19, have been taken into account. Further in-depth analysis of the costs and benefits has given us a clearer picture of the overall economic effects.
  • Key changes include a longer timeline for farmers on some of the requirements and a decision not to implement a national bottom line for dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) at this stage, although current levels will have to be maintained or improved. Existing permanent fences are not required to be moved via regulation.
  • The primary sector will play a critical role in New Zealand’s economic recovery from COVID-19. So the Government has reduced the cost and impact on them from the proposals put out for consultation last year, without compromising major environmental benefits.
  • New Zealand’s future wellbeing, including the wellbeing of our rural communities, depends on an economy that is both environmentally sustainable and generates high value for its people.
  • For the longer term, there will be a new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM) to achieve permanent improvements and uphold Te Mana o te Wai. A new freshwater planning process will speed up the process of getting the NPS into force around the country.
  • To complement these actions, farm plans will be rolled out over time starting with higher-risk catchments and can be made mandatory and enforceable.
  • The Government will work with the agriculture sector to ensure it gets to a space where future generations have the kind of water that they deserve, that they want, and that this country needs. Efforts to achieve high quality water will be rewarded by greater value for our produce.
  • With mātauranga Māori – or Māori principles – for water management as the guide, the Government has developed a clear, robust and enforceable set of policies that will mean all New Zealanders can enjoy and benefit from healthy rivers and clean, safe water for decades to come.

Other changes include:

  • Delaying consideration of a DIN national bottom line (maximum level) for 12 months, to allow time for a thorough review of its environmental and economic implications.
  • Where fences are required they must be a minimum of 3 metres from a waterway, but permanent fences will not need to move to comply with riparian setback requirements, although freshwater farm plans and regional rules may require more than this.
  • Developing mandatory and enforceable freshwater farm plan regimes and phasing their introduction over a longer timeframe.
  • Removal of commercial vegetable growing from the interim intensification rules

The key legislative and regulatory changes are:

  • Amendment to the Resource Management Act to deliver faster regional water plans
  • A National Environmental Standard to hold the line by controlling riskier practices
  • A National Policy Statement based on Te Mana o te Wai sets new bottomlines for swimmability and water health measures
  • Stock exclusion regulations and water take measurement
  • Mandatory and enforceable farm plans

What 14 wolves can do

Green response to PREFU

A media release from Green leader James Shaw after the release of the PREFU:


Bigger surplus means we can end poverty, clean up our rivers, and tackle climate change

A bigger surplus will allow a new government to manage the economy responsibly while making the changes people know are needed, like lifting kids out of poverty, cleaning up our rivers, solving the housing crisis, and tackling climate change, the Green Party said today.

The Pre-Election Fiscal Update (PREFU) released today shows stronger growth in the short term, resulting in a higher than forecast surplus for the government this year by $2.1 billion. However, forecast productivity growth remains weak and will undermine our longer term economic prospects, resulting in lower long-term growth.

“It’s clear now after the opening of the books that there is more money available in the short term, and we’ll be taking a good look at the best way to invest that in our priorities of ending poverty, cleaning up our rivers, and tackling climate change,” said Green Party Co-leader James Shaw.

“We can manage the economy responsibly and use the bigger surplus to improve the lives of New Zealanders by building more homes, lifting incomes, and providing free public transport for young people.

“Further tax cuts from National, before they’ve even restarted payments to the New Zealand Superannuation Fund, would smack of desperation and highlight how they’re more interested in staying in power rather than managing the economy for the long term.

“We will deliver modest tax cuts for everyone earning less than $150,000, as part of our family incomes package, lifting hundreds of thousands of kids out of poverty, and making everyone who earns less than $150,000 better off than they are now.

“Free buses and trains, including school buses for kids and teenagers, will make a much bigger difference to family budgets than another tax cut.

“Free public transport would save some families hundreds of dollars a week while addressing high levels of congestion on our roads.

“After nine years, National have gone stale and are unwilling to make the changes people know are needed, like lifting kids out of poverty, cleaning up our rivers, building more homes, and tackling climate change.

“No child should go to school hungry, especially when times are good. We’re going to fix that,” said Mr Shaw.

Who’s to blame for river health?

Dairy is the main scapecow when it comes to water pollution blame, but that industry takes it’s clean clean green obligations more seriously than most city dwellers.

Newshub has published a series of reports on water quality in New Zealand. One of the biggest culprits would appear to be the dairy industry – but that could be an unfair emphasis when there are a number of other causes of our water pollution, people and cities being major ones.

Newshub: Special report: The blame game over NZ river health

As Newshub reported in parts one and two of our special investigation into New Zealand’s river health, the dairy industry has acknowledged the role it plays in pollution, and its farmers have spent a billion dollars trying to protect waterways from further contamination.

There are other factors to consider when it comes to river pollution.

  • The beef, lamb and venison industries are not regulated to protect waterways.
  • Other land and river-based industries such as milling are key polluters.
  • Invasive species of fish and plants are still a major problem.
  • Climate change is having a major detrimental effect as our waterways heat up.

While it would be easy for Newshub to square up the protagonists in a ‘we said, they said’ debate, the true facts of the matter are that all New Zealanders are responsible for the health of our waterways, even the great majority of us who live in urban areas.

We all live here, we all eat the food that is grown here, and we all go to the toilet here – it’s that simple.

Even political critics of polluters are a part of the problem.

We are all responsible for water pollution

Freshwater ecologist Dr Kevin Simon from Auckland University told Newshub all Kiwis have a part to play.

“We spend lots of time of assigning blame and not enough time solving problems, so we need to focus more on how can we do these things better?

“I think all of New Zealand needs to step back and take ownership of this, it’s not just farmers, it’s not just the dairy industry, it’s all of us that own this problem, and we’re all going to need to step up together to try and figure out ways to do things better to fix these systems.

“It’s going to take all of us to make some hard choices to do that.”

Some of those hard choices will need to be made by people who live in New Zealand’s cities.

An easy choice is to blame someone else. Most cow pollution is at least natural, albeit concentrated.

City dwellers are major polluters

Just think of the almost 1.5 million people crammed into the relatively small area of the Auckland isthmus and the pollution that causes.

NIWA’s chief scientist of freshwater and estuaries Dr John Quinn told Newshub city living has a massive impact on water quality, and we should all be more aware of it.

“It is very much a ‘we’re all in this together’ issue, but in one sector, the urban-rural split in this is not actually very helpful for people blaming each other.

Who is actually making an effort to reduce pollution?

Is the dairy industry receiving the credit it deserves?

Dr Quinn also believes the dairy industry has made great strides in recognising and rectifying the pollution it causes, even in the face of increasing intensification.

“I think the dairy farming community needs to receive some credit for the effort that it’s put in over the last 15 years, and if we look at the results from those dairy practice catchments we looked at, we have seen improvements in water clarity amongst all of those, [and] reductions in E. coli in a number of them.

“Farmers have done a good job of getting livestock out of streams and improving effluent and nutrient management,” he says.

But they are still the main scapegoat, or scapecow.

Dr Simon says Kiwis should appreciate what farmers are trying to achieve by reducing pollution in waterways, which has gone largely unchecked since farming began in the 1800s.

“Part of the issue is that the farmers have to bear the brunt but we’ve got to help them. We’ve got to help provide them with solutions that are economically feasible and will work. Farmers don’t want to pollute, they want to make a living just like the rest of us.”

Some people make a living flying around the country complaining about others who pollute.

The real questions though, are these: Is the change, both in attitude and application, happening fast enough – and is it happening with the right amount of intensity?

We may only find out the answers to these questions in 10 to 20 years.

– Newshub.

David Parker’s environmental credentials

David Parker has responded to critics with a post at Red Alert, posted in full here:

I seek leave to make a personal explanation …..

Posted by  on July 30th, 2012

I see I am getting a bit of gyp from critics in the blogosphere whose latest fantasy is that I lack an environmental ethic.

Their mistake is they think that a healthy environment stands in opposition to a healthy economy.

I don’t rise to the bait too often, but on this occasion I will bite and lay out my record.

Some of these critics should do their homework.

I am 52 years of age. I tramp, ski, and swim in rivers and the sea. I have been fighting for environmental causes most of my life.

As a lawyer I fought for conservation orders that now protect many of the south island’s rivers including the Mataura, the Buller, the Ahuriri, the Greenstone, the Dart, the Lochy, the von, and the Kawarau.

I am still active in river protection. This year I am appearing pro-bono as an expert witness on energy policy in support of the Fish and Game application to protect the Nevis river from damming.

As Minister of Energy I halted the decline in renewable electricity as a % of total generation, set an objective of 90% renewables by 2025 and put in place a myriad of initiatives to achieve that end. That objective has survived the change to National, and good progress is being made towards it. Together with Jeanette Fitzsimons, I also promulgated the most ambitious energy efficiency and conservation strategy we had ever had, and played a strong hand in the design and funding of the insulation retrofit programme that National continued with.

As Minister of Energy I added substantially to the lands protected from mining by extending schedule 4 protection to all parts of national parks not then protected, including Kahurangi.

As Minister of Land Information I revamped tenure review, helped form a number of conservation parks, including the Otiake Park in the Hawkduns, stopped tenure review around lakes and rebalanced the relationship between the Crown and lessees. National has reversed some of those changes.

As Acting Minister for the Environment I unblocked the national policy statement on freshwater quality. Trevor Mallard continued this work culminating in the very good NPS proposed by Judge Shepherd et al, which was then neutered by National.

As Minister of Climate Change I successfully legislated to price greenhouse gases in all sectors of the economy covering the 6 main gases covered by the Kyoto protocol. New Zealand remains the only country in the world to have achieved that. I was named Environmentalist of the year in 2008 by the Listener for that and other initiatives.
Changes by National and a loss of momentum internationally collapsing the price of carbon have undermined it, but the architecture remains sound. It is Labour’s policy to bring agriculture in to the ETS.

While in government I read about set nets causing the deaths of Hector’s and Maui dolphins. After confirming with Chris Carter that this was intend a serious problem I approached Helen Clark who, with Jim Anderton’s help, vastly expanded the areas where set nets were banned.

I have had high profile run-ins with proponents of lignite developments, including Solid Energy’s Don Elder.
As Labour’s then spokesperson for conservation, I helped lead Labour’s successful campaign against National’s plans to allow mining in schedule 4 National parks, Coromandel, Great Barrier Island etc. For those with a sense of humour, my Christmas interchange with Gerry Brownlee on the issue, in which Gerry starred, remains the most watched clip from parliament.  http://inthehouse.co.nz/node/912

I have spoken often on the need to better protect our albatross and petrels from being killed as by-catch. Similarly, I am a defender of lowland wetlands against reclamation, and against degradation caused by intensification of nearby land use.

I have been a defender of the RMA, while wanting to improve its reputation by addressing some of its arcane and hard to defend processes.

I am happy to stand on my record on environmental matters.

Which is why it annoyed me to be told I am out to lunch on mining issues.

Having a clean environment means making sure we use our natural resources responsibly. It doesn’t mean we stop using all of them.

That’s why, outside of schedule 4 areas, mining applications can and should be considered case by case.

As I said when interviewed, there is legitimate public concern about deep sea drilling arising from the Gulf of Mexico catastrophe and the limitations of New Zealand’s response to the Rena shipwreck. We must ensure that world’s best practice is followed and that the safety devices needed in the event of mishap are available and can be deployed. Even then, it may be that the deepest of wells are too risky and ought not to proceed.

In terms of lignite, I reiterated that Labour believes its use as an energy source using current technology is a dirty greenhouse gas intensive practice. We are also unconvinced it is economic, especially if environmental consequences are included, and have said government money should be  spent on renewables instead.

Our position on developments in the EEZ is that RMA type principles should apply. We sit between the Greens (who would ban most development activities) and National, whose EEZ legislation, while initially supported by the Greens, is inadequate.

We can develop our resources responsibly and make responsible decisions for our future – and a sustainable economy requires it.