Clean Water Package Controversy
The government recently announced its Clean Water Package. The release has caused considerable controversy, largely around the proposed target of 90% of rivers and lakes being ‘swimmable’ by 2040 and, in particular, the E.coli guidelines for swimmable rivers being 540 E.coli per 100mls.
The Green Party and Labour Party were vociferous in their criticism of the government’s announcement largely because the amount of E.coli that can be present in swimmable water has doubled.As well, Forest and Bird advised the Minister for the Environment, Dr Nick Smith and the Minister for Primary Industries, Nathan Guy that it was withdrawing from the Land and Water Forum. Forest and Bird is a very influential pressure group in this arena; it took legal action in relation to the proposed Ruataniwha Dam and that matter is still being litigated.
The Land and Water Forum brings together groups of stakeholders such as industry groups, electricity generators, environmental and recreational bodies, iwi, scientists and other organisations with a stake in fresh water and land management. The purpose of the forum is to try to develop a common direction for fresh water management and provide advice to the government on this issue. There are 67 non-government participants, and 13 central and local government partners that include local authorities and various government departments.
The issue of fresh water standards for waterways is highly political and is likely to remain this way in the foreseeable future.
Where to from here for farmers?
Where does this government announcement leave farmers? Is their position any different from that set out in our article in the Autumn 2016 issue of Rural eSpeaking which covered the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 which, when (or if), enacted will give the government power to prescribe regulations to fence waterways?
In answer to the questions posed above, the release of the Clean Water Package doesn’t change the position of farmers at all. Sheep and cattle have been identified as major contributors to the level of E.coli in rivers and streams, and any attempt to control levels of that bacteria will involve keeping animals out of those waterways as far as possible.
The government’s tinkering with the definition of ‘swimmable’ will have little effect on the need to keep animals as far as possible away from our streams and rivers.
As much as anything, the current furore over the government’s package shows that the issue remains highly political – particularly with 2017 being an election year. There are well-funded and high-powered pressure groups involved; farmers cannot expect any relaxation in the fencing proposals that are currently on the table.
Interestingly enough shortly after the Clean Water Package was announced, the Environmental Defence Society released a report entitled ‘Last Line of Defence: Compliance, monitoring and enforcement of New Zealand’s environmental law.’
Local authority compliance
One of the areas that the report examined was resourcing, as well as the technical capacity, for local authorities’ compliance functions. While the report noted that regional authorities have been demonstrating increasing technical capacity for their compliance function, there is still a concern that there is political influence on decision-making, including the allocation of resources.
Clearly, monitoring compliance with the fencing of rivers and streams is going to impose a considerable burden upon our regional and unitary authorities.
In the meantime, however, we will keep you informed on the debate around the Clean Water Package.
Copyright of NZ Law Limited, 2017