Feedback on freshwater reform proposals - 2013 and beyond

This page provides a summary of the feedback received on the Government's proposals in its March 2013 proposals paper 'Freshwater reform 2013 and beyond’.

At a glance

Overall, the Freshwater Reform proposals were well received – with consistent support for the broad direction, and strong interest in exactly how the proposals will be implemented in practice.

There was:

  • Support for the collaborative planning process for fresh water, and questions about the:
    • capability of councils to deliver this
    • removal of appeal rights
    • nature of the proposed hearings panel.
  • Support for the concept of a National Objectives Framework and national bottom lines, and questions about:
    • the level these will be set at and how they will be achieved
    • whether water quality will be allowed to deteriorate from current levels
    • the idea of trading-off quality between different water bodies.
  • Recognition of the need for better water accounting to enable fresh water to be managed within quality and quantity limits.
  • Concerns about the perceived impact of the proposed changes to water conservation orders.
  • Questions about the timing and process for developing the detailed implementation of the reforms.
  • Support for the view that the full set of Land and Water Forum recommendations should be implemented as a package.

What you told us

The Government’s proposal paper ‘Freshwater reform 2013 and beyond’, and subsequent round of public meetings in March 2013, attracted a lot of interest. Around 2000 people attended over 50 public meetings, hui, council and stakeholder meetings all over the country on both the freshwater and wider resource management reform proposals.

We received 368 written contributions, in addition to the feedback from the public meetings and hui.

Analysis of contributions

Table 1 and Figure 1 provide an analysis of the contributions by submitter type.

Table 1: Analysis of contributions by submitter type

table showing analysis of contributions by submitter type

Figure 1: Analysis of contributions by submitter type

pie chart showing analysis of contributions by submitter type

Analysis of contributions by submitter type

Submitter type: Number:
Business and industry (incl agriculture) 56
Regional and unitary councils 13
District and city councils 11
NGOs, community and user groups 40
Science, academic and government 18
Iwi, hapu, and iwi/Maori organisations 36
Individuals 194
Total 368

The following is a detailed summary of feedback on the key areas for immediate reform and specific iwi/Māori feedback.

Planning as a community

Many contributions supported a collaborative planning process for fresh water. Many also raised questions about how this process would work in practice. There was opposition to the removal of appeal rights. These are seen as a 'backstop' for collaborative processes that failed to achieve consensus, or are supported because of a view that the Environment Court adds a further level of rigour to the planning process. There was concern the planning process could remove existing property rights without the ability to appeal those decisions.

A range of views were expressed on the composition and independence of the proposed hearings panel – from appointed with full discretion by councils, to fully independent and not appointed by the council nor containing councillors. A number of contributors suggested that iwi rather than councils should determine who should represent tikanga Māori views on the hearing panel.

A common theme across many submissions is the need for timely central government action to provide guidance on how to operate the new system, and support for building the capacity and capability of councils, stakeholder groups and iwi/Māori in carrying out their roles within a collaborative process. This is elaborated in some cases to cover:

  • tracking and evaluation of goals, implementation and institutional performance
  • research, modelling and data collation
  • centralised assistance and resources for economic analysis and assessment
  • a clear timetable and work program for policy development and staging of the reforms.

Setting freshwater objectives and limits

The proposal for a National Objectives Framework (NOF) and for national bottom lines was generally strongly supported, including by the agriculture sector. A number of submissions, including from industry groups, noted the need to address the coastal receiving environment, not just the freshwater system. 

The need for robust science and the ability to incorporate new science over time was raised in many comments. Many commentators offered to provide assistance for the scientific work, and even more sought the chance to comment on the numbers before they were included in a regulation.

Many submitters were concerned that a NOF could lead to all water bodies being managed down to national bottom lines. There was concern from many that the numbers being considered were weaker than those in some existing plans. The concept of trading off between water bodies also received negative comments.

Many submitters were concerned that the bands or national bottom lines might unreasonably restrict use of water, and there were frequent calls for robust science, and good analysis of the implications of any national bottom lines.

The views on exceptions varied. Some supported exemptions for water bodies that naturally breached the national bottom lines. Other supported exceptions for water bodies that had been modified for major developments (eg, hydroelectricity generation).  Many comments argued for no exceptions at all (although they generally favoured allowing a long timeframe for achieving the desired objectives).

Proposals relating to Schedule 3, section 69 (which currently guide the use of water quality standards in plans), and the legal instrument to be used for the NOF got a mixed response from the few substantive comments on these matters.

There was opposition to the proposed Water Conservation Order (WCO) provisions from a range of parties, with the most consistent opposition from environmental NGOs and individuals. The proposals were perceived to reduce the protection for nationally significant rivers and lakes. This often included concern about the effect of changes to sections 6 and 7 in the wider Resource Management Reform proposals.

Managing within quantity and quality limits

There was widespread recognition of the need for better water accounting to enable fresh water to be managed within quality and quantity limits. A number of comments noted the additional costs that this might entail, and others suggested particular measures or measurement methodologies.

There were frequent calls (generally from individual submissions) for a stronger NPS. Others sought an NES that would set clear standards.

More generally, the reaction to the proposals could be characterised as “we support this, but want to see the details” or “we support this, subject to the following being included in the details”. There were concerns about implementation difficulties and costs, and many submissions sought additional support and guidance to local government to ensure full implementation.

Iwi/Māori response to freshwater reform proposals

Planning as a community

There was broad support from iwi/Māori for the collaborative planning process with some saying it should be compulsory. Concerns were raised however about the level of engagement, with most submitters seeking a clear role for iwi/Māori in decision-making that is more than advisory. There was general support for an independent hearings panel with iwi and hapū seeing a role in deciding who the Māori representative should be. Removing appeal rights to the Environment Court was generally not supported. The need to provide for capacity and capability building for iwi/Māori to participate in the process was raised, and for local government to ensure they understand the concerns that Māori raise.

Setting freshwater objectives and limits

There was general support for a NOF, with iwi/Māori seeking greater involvement in establishing the NOF and ensuring its implementation. The ability to apply exceptional circumstances was not generally supported, especially where the exceptions were economically driven. Comments were split on whether or not changes proposed to WCO were beneficial or necessary but generally supported greater iwi/Māori involvement.

Managing within quality and quantity limits

Comments broadly supported the reforms to improve water quality and quantity, in particular requiring freshwater accounting and mātauranga Māori in water research and good practice. The use of good practice guidance was supported but seen as a mechanism that should be used alongside, not instead of, regulatory measures. Concerns were raised about the need for longer-term reform discussions to commence with urgency. Discussions such as water allocation and trading were seen to have direct implications for how Māori rights and interests in fresh water may be addressed. Delaying these discussions was also seen to have direct implications on the health of water bodies and inhibited the ability for the NOF to be effectively implemented. Longer-term consents were not supported, but a simpler permitting system for renewals was proposed as an alternative. Nearly all iwi/Māori submitters considered they have a clear role in helping develop water research, good practice, and the monitoring and regulatory processes proposed.

Concerns were raised about the level of engagement and the need for both central and local government to ensure that the right groups were represented, and that this may not always be iwi but instead hapū or rūnanga.