The Land and Water Forum (LAWF) released its third and final report on 15 November 2012.  The report, Managing within Limits, deals with implementing the framework for setting limits of water quality and quantity, which was recommended in the second report.

The LAWF reports do not resolve the nature of iwi rights and interests in freshwater and has no direct bearing on the Māori Council's judicial review application against the Government's partial assets sale programme (to be heard in the High Court starting next week).  Although iwi rights and interests were not part of the LAWF's mandate, the group notes that the integrated catchment management approach recommended by the group is sufficiently flexible to accommodate outcomes from Crown-iwi negotiations.

Recommendations contained in the third report include the following:

  • Regional councils should conduct integrated regional decision-making in catchments to set freshwater objectives and limits and manage water takes, land use, and discharges having identified key water quality issues and contaminants in the catchment.
  • Catchment-specific decision-making should be undertaken by regional councils within an overarching national regulatory framework and assisted by national guidance.
  • Except where short lengths are required for temporary purposes, regional councils should grant water allocation consents for 20 to 35 years once the new water management regime is in place.
  • Good Management Practices (GMPs) should be defined and adopted in all catchments, and regional plans need to incorporate and incentivise GMPs.
  • All activities in the catchment which have an impact on water quality and flow will be accounted for and brought into the management framework.
  • All discharges (whether point source or non-point source) should be able to be managed within the RMA framework. Regulatory tools must be implemented in a way that fits within the agreed catchment management regime.

There was one split recommendation, where the LAWF was not able to reach consensus on the role of merit appeals in collaborative planning processes.  LAWF's second report recommended changes to existing merit appeal provisions under the RMA, but there was disagreement as to whether appeal rights should be restricted or extended.  Some LAWF members expressed concern that maintaining the unrestricted ability to appeal the merits of councils’ decisions at the end of the plan-making process would not incentivise good faith collaboration, while others had concerns regarding the effect of limiting access to the Environment Court on the ability of some parties to participate, the quality of outcomes and the equity of the planning process.  LAWF chair Alastair Bisley nonetheless expressed hope that the Government will respond to the LAWF reports in their totality as they form an integrated package.

The LAWF comprises a range of industry, environmental, recreational, iwi and research groups and organisations with an interest in freshwater and land management, and has the objective of developing advice for the Government on land and water management through a stakeholder-led collaborative process.  The first report by the LAWF was released in 2010 and focused mainly on problem definition.  The second report was released on 18 May 2012 and contained more detailed recommendations relating to the general framework for the setting of limits for water quality and quantity.

We note also that the LAWF in its second report recommended that further work be carried out to confirm a national objectives framework.  Advice on this matter is currently being finalised by officials for Ministerial consideration.  It can be expected that the final advice will have implications for the recommendations made in the latest report.

At this stage there is no opportunity to formally comment on the third report.  Details about future opportunities for public input will be made available here.

Officials will now look to build on the LAWF's recommendations to develop a full package of water policy options for Ministers to consider, and to be progressed in 2013.  The LAWF has decided to meet again in July 2013, to assess the outcomes of the reports, consider whether there is some further role for it to play, and if so, how the LAWF might constitute itself to do so.

The full report can be accessed here.