Over the weekend, the Ministers for the Environment and Primary Industries released the discussion document Freshwater Reform 2013 and Beyond. The discussion document flows from the Government's Land and Water Forum process and suggests a suite of changes aimed at changing this country's freshwater management. The proposals in the discussion document aim to address a number of freshwater challenges, namely the:

  • declining freshwater quality, particularly because of the effects of nitrates;
  • over-allocation of water in some areas;
  • litigious and time-consuming nature of decision making processes;
  • highest value use of water;
  • lack of robust information on impacts and outcomes of management decisions;
  • better consideration of iwi/Māori interests in planning and decision making; and
  • insufficient adaptability and dynamism in freshwater management.

The discussion document includes a number of notable proposals which would require legislation to implement, including:

  • A new optional collaborative planning process when Councils prepare, change and review freshwater policy statements and plans. The intention is to involve all stakeholders at the planning and design stage and "front load" potential objections and disagreements.
  • Formalising the role of iwi/Māori in providing advice and formal recommendations, including a requirement that Councils consider iwi/Māori views before making decisions about water in planning documents.
  • Establishing a National Objectives Framework. The Framework will have a standard list of possible values for managing particular water bodies, but the values for any particular body of water would be a local decision - subject to some nationally set bottom lines.
  • Introducing a national accounting system for water use. This system will allow Councils to obtain information from water users, and to enable the Government to require Councils to collect data from users and share that data with the Government.

These legislative changes, proposed amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2011 and central government guidance will cumulatively have quite an effect on how freshwater is managed in New Zealand.

The Government is keen to move on these proposals and has set a short timeframe for consultation with submissions on the discussion document due on 8 April 2013.

You can find more information and analysis on these proposals here.