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4 Submissions on the content of the proposal

4.1 Q1 – Problem statements and issues

Do you agree with the statement and the three key problems that were identified as benefiting from national direction?

The proposed NES identified three key problems that could benefit from national direction.

  • Resource consent decisions are being made on water bodies for which there are no environmental flows or water levels in place.

  • Existing environmental flows and water levels do not always clearly define the available amount of water.

  • The existing process for setting ecological flows and water levels is costly and contentious.

Most submitters commenting on the proposed NES considered that the problem statements and issues were relevant and correct, even if they did not relate to their specific region/area. A significant number of submitters were concerned about their accuracy or fullness, while others stated that they were incorrect and the issue misunderstood. There were some who considered that the problems and issues identified did not warrant the development/gazetting of an NES, while others felt that an NES would not overcome the problems identified.

Approximately 10 per cent of submissions on this question considered that the problems and issues identified were too narrow; and that they should be expanded to encompass environmental, cultural and social aspects, including tangata whenua. The iwi submitters considered that these tangata whenua issues had not been recognised and needed to be explicitly described in the discussion document.

Some submitters considered that the proposed NES should be delayed until after the NPS for Freshwater Management has been prepared and gazetted. Some stated that objective 2 does not differentiate between takes from dams and other water bodies, yet dams may have been constructed specifically to store water for abstraction purposes.

4.2 Q2 – Assessment and evaluation of alternatives

Do you consider that all available options have been covered? Do you have comments on the assessment and evaluation of the alternatives?

As part of the initial analysis for the proposed NES, a comparison of alternatives to developing an NES on Ecological Flows and Water Levels was carried out.

The alternatives explored included:

  • the status quo, where there is no national direction and reliance is placed solely on regional plans, water conservation orders and resource consent applications

  • a national directive to set environmental flows using existing policy instruments (eg, a national policy statement, or legislative change)

  • national guidance on technical methods, in the form of a technical document and referenced by the proposed NES (or a modified version of it)

  • an alternative NES that has a broader scope than the preferred NES option.

Of the submitters commenting on the proposed NES, approximately a quarter accepted the assessment and evaluation of alternatives and supported the conclusions. However, there was concern expressed about the narrow breadth of options considered, with some submitters stating that variations or combinations of those presented were viable and could be preferable. This in turn would lead to a broader range of alternatives.

Some submitters argued that a more thorough examination of the options should be presented and explained. One suggested that the assessment should provide a five-point ranking, as opposed to three, thus allowing for a finer assessment of the options. Some argued that a number of the other alternatives assessed could fulfil the task better than the current preference. Notably, some submitters considered that the preferred option should be the use of environmental flows as opposed to ecological flows. Options identified as being preferable included option 4.1, 4.3 and 4.5 as set out in the discussion document.

It was noted by some submitters that if no option was selected, then objectives 1 and 2 of the proposed NES would be met and the proposed NES would not be needed, or should restrict its focus to objective 3. Related to this point, it was argued that an NES was not required and water quality issues should be handled by the regional authorities. Some submitters considered that the proposed NES is more suited to being a guidance document as opposed to an NES.

Some submitters commented that the assessment should only be undertaken once the NPS for Freshwater Management has been prepared, as it would provide the policy basis and framework, and therefore influence the resulting thinking on the NES.

Concern was expressed by some submitters that avoiding, or having reduced, consultation is wrong.

4.3 Q3 – The need for interim limits

Do you support the need for, and introduction of, interim limits set through a national environmental standard?

The proposed NES establishes interim limits on the alterations to flows and water levels, which will apply to water bodies for which there are no environmental flows or water levels specified in a proposed or operative water plan. The interim limits will apply unless and until an alternative is established through a regional plan process.

Overall, approximately equal numbers of submitters supported, opposed or provided conditional support for the need for an interim limit. Conditional support was generally given on the following basis.

  • An interim limit should include or allow for robust debate of section 5 of the RMA with regard to economic, cultural and social factors.

  • The workability of a wetland interim limit needs to be confirmed through evidence and testing, and if uncertainty issues are not overcome then the limit should be abandoned.

  • A precautionary approach should be taken because allocation levels are too high.

  • Levels set by councils should have precedence.

  • A sunset clause should be provided to cover existing consents.

Those who opposed the need for interim limits argued that:

  • they are not needed

  • they are not relevant to local areas

  • the limits proposed are wrong and are not based on sufficiently advanced science

  • their need impinges on current consented schemes / allowed abstractions.

4.4 Q4 – The interim limits

Do you have comments on the numbers for the interim flows and water levels? Are there sufficient divisions of rivers and streams and groundwater systems?

Interim limits are provided for:

  • aquifers:

    • an allocation limit for shallow coastal aquifers (predominately sand) of 15 per cent of the annual recharge
    • an allocation limit for all other aquifers of 35 per cent of the average annual recharge
  • wetlands:

    • no change to water levels, beyond the water level variation that has already been provided for by existing resource consents on the date the NES comes into force
  • rivers and streams:

    • a minimum flow of 90 per cent of the mean annual low flow (MALF) and an allocation limit of 30 per cent of MALF for rivers and streams, with mean flows less than or equal to 5 m³/s
    • a minimum flow of 80 per cent of MALF and an allocation limit of 50 per cent of MALF for rivers and streams with mean flow greater than 5 m³/s.

Approximately a quarter of submitters opposed the proposed interim limits, while about three-quarters either supported the proposed NES in part or were unclassified (N/A). Some argued for increases or decreases to the limits. Few submitters supported the proposed interim limits outright.

In general, submitters were concerned about the application of an interim limit that does not take into account local or regional circumstances, or a particular use; in other words, a one-size-fits-all approach cannot work and is inappropriate. It was felt that there is a failure to recognise the connectivity of different water bodies, and consequently submitters were confused as to how limits apply. It was noted that a percentage-based interim limit does not reflect how water catchments actually work. Setting limits based on ecological flows is incorrect: they should be based on environmental flows.

Submitters also felt that the proposed NES should provide more data and/or detail, including testing results, and justifying and explaining the proposed limits and how they apply to different types of water bodies. Without this technical justification the proposed NES could not provide a basis for valid regulation. Some submitters felt that the proposed NES should not apply to water bodies where there is no data available; others considered that in this instance the proposed interim limits should only apply to these water bodies.

Some considered that applying limits would adversely affect existing operations and business, including electricity generation, stock water supply, farm irrigation and potable water supply. There would be adverse commercial, community and economic costs, with no discernible environmental benefits. A number of submitters felt the need for further consultation on setting limits.

4.4.1 Proposed numbers (flows and levels)

Submissions on the proposed numbers for interim limits for allocation and flow varied, with approximately half of submitters suggesting an alternative number (some higher, some lower). About 20 per cent of submitters were concerned about the water bodies that would be affected by the limits, and a similar percentage queried how the limit figures were derived. The range of proposed alternative numbers included:

  • no more than 20 per cent of MALF in low-flow conditions from all watercourses

  • 20 per cent of the average annual recharge

  • less than 20 per cent of MALF where rivers and streams have flows of less than 5 m3/s

  • for flows less than or greater than 5 m3/s, allocation should be 25 per cent or 35 per cent, respectively

  • 10 to 50 per cent of the total groundwater recharge

  • interim limits should be 15 to 20 per cent for shallow aquifers and 35 to 40 per cent for others.

Some submitters considered that the proposed limits are too conservative and do not correspond to the objectives of the proposed NES, or do not reflect the advice contained in the technical document. They considered that trigger levels should be based on median rather than mean flow. Others believed that flows measured over a month or a year should form the base for levels, while some submissions stated that MALF should be the minimum flow instead.

Conversely, it was felt by some that the proposed limits should be increased because otherwise they would result in wasteful loss of water. Some observed that the proposed interim limits would effectively prohibit any more take from groundwater. It was argued that water harvesting (higher than normal abstraction, or simply some abstraction) should be allowed during medium and/or higher flow levels and the proposed NES affords opportunity to encourage such abstraction during these periods. There was also concern about what would happen if resource consents for abstractions were surrendered, and what would happen if proposed limits were currently being exceeded. Some felt that limits should only be used where there is robust data to verify those limits.

It was considered that the location for measuring flows/limits should be identified and how it relates to upstream catchments specified. Further, the proposed NES should state how breaches of the interim limits are going to be policed. Submitters were concerned that limits would not allow for natural variability of water body flows, including stormwater flows. Also it was not clear how limits should/could apply when water runs dry, or to ephemeral streams.

Some submitters felt that the use of MALF should not be contestable, while others argued that the use of MALF does not in fact provide a basis for protecting ecological flows. Some were concerned about wetlands, seeking the imposition of levels to protect them and stating that no takes should be permissible, while others felt that the limits were too stringent. One submitter noted that wetlands need to have levels that fluctuate.

4.4.2 Division of rivers and streams and groundwater systems

Some submitters were concerned about connectivity between groundwater, wetlands and other water bodies, and in particular how the limits in one could be affected by use of the other. It was pointed out that using groundwater would affect levels in other water bodies, including wetlands; and the proposed limits would therefore mean that no further takes from groundwater could be allowed. This, in turn, would create flow-on pressure for increased take from streams and rivers. It was considered by some that more data and clarity should be provided to advise on connectivity, and a means provided to administer the proposed NES.

Some submitters stated that wetlands should not be identified as a water course (and would thereby be afforded protection from abstraction), while others considered that the proposed NES should not protect wetlands if they had not been identified as being significant. Some felt that sensitive areas should be protected, and that those being subjected to particular abstraction pressures should be identified and protected.

Some submitters wanted a much greater division of streams. This would enable a more conservative approach, such that where habitat values are high it could protect small streams, which are the most sensitive to change and are deserving of more protection. Also, braided rivers needed to be recognised.

4.4.3 Scope: what is included?

Some submitters felt that abstraction from dams and abstraction for potable water supply should not be included in the interim levels. In particular, potable water supply abstraction should be afforded special status to ensure water supply to communities can continue. Similar submissions were made by electricity generating companies. Some submitters argued that any takes allowed by section 14 of the RMA should not be affected by the proposed limits.

Additional clarity was sought in respect of water bodies and catchments, which have both ecological and environmental flows set in a plan; in this instance, it was asked, which flow should take precedence? Some argued that environmental limits should take precedence over ecological ones. Also clarity was requested in respect of what should occur when the limits are reached: should all abstraction cease?

Some considered that the limits should only apply to recognised aquifers and not to all groundwater. One submitter stated that the limits should only apply to potable water and not to ‘contaminated’ water, while another noted that the proposed limits would adversely affect the aggregates industry.

4.5 Q5 – Time bound/limit for interim levels

The proposal does not set a time limit for how long the interim limits will apply. There is some concern that this will not encourage catchment-specific or regional default flows to be set. Do you think the interim flow and water levels should apply for only a limited period?

4.5.1 Time limit

Some submitters stated that interim limits should not be time bound, arguing that time limits would be unnecessary, inappropriate, restrictive and conservative. Time limits could restrict the amount and depth of research. Instead, a precautionary approach was suggested; flows, limits and levels should be established when information becomes available.

Some considered that a deadline to establish sustainable ecological flows would be more useful and appropriate. Others felt that time limits are a good idea, although setting time limits on the proposed NES would need to include relevant data gathering, peer review and community consultation time, and robust data would need to be available for good decision-making.

Those submitters who supported time limits stated that they should be based on the specific regional authority. There was concern that setting one date nationwide would be unfair on those regions with large numbers of water bodies and would create a lot of pressure, stress, and inconsistencies in the quality of data collected. It was argued that each region should be time bound, based on the number of water bodies in the region and therefore relative to the work-load, and this will ensure that flows are set.

It was suggested that the interim limits should only apply until such time as limits have been set via a comprehensive consultation and environmental assessment process, which may be through either the setting of minimum/environmental flows within regional plans or through resource consent processes.

It was noted that the proposed NES does not state how long the time limits will apply for and a variety of time limits were suggested. Five years was the most common, although submitters noted the need for flexibility.

4.5.2 Implementation costs

Some submissions indicated that the proposed NES should explain how implementation costs will be met.

4.5.3 How to implement

Submitters noted that a trigger point should be determined, which, when reached, would require regional councils to enter into a process to determine specific environmental or ecological flows and allocation limits for a water body where an interim limit is imposed. Some felt that the ideal approach would be a staged introduction of catchment management plans which sets out clear priorities.

4.5.4 Other

Other comments on time limits were that regional councils will need assistance in setting ecological flows, and that discretion over the setting of time limits should lie with resource managers.

4.6 Q6 – Inclusion of existing consents within allocation limits

As currently structured, the interim allocation limits include all existing consents. Implementation of the limits will, therefore, not require clawback of existing consents to meet the interim allocation limit. Clawback is an option allowed when an environmental flow is set through a regional plan. How do you think the situation, where the amount of water allocated to existing consents exceeds the numeric interim limit, should be addressed?

4.6.1 Apply to existing consents

There was a mixed response to this point. Some submitters expressed the view that the proposed interim limits should apply to existing consents, while others felt that existing consents should be honoured and no more water allocated. It was suggested that water allocation applications already in process should be addressed before the proposed NES coming into force.

Some submitters argued that limits should not be based on existing consents, while others were confused about how the limits would apply to existing consents. It was suggested that the duration of existing consents should be revised and requirements set for early plan reviews.

There are submitters (state-owned enterprises and commercial water users) who are opposed to interim levels interfering with the re-consenting of existing abstractions. It was argued that the proposed NES should have specific exemption provisions (for example, consented hydro-electric schemes).

4.6.2 Renewals (and clawback)

One submitter (an environmental organisation) suggested that any allocations over and above the proposed NES interim allocations should not be allowed to carry on indefinitely and should be rectified at the earliest possible opportunity. This submitter also suggested that as consents expire and are renewed, they should be reduced, where necessary, to achieve allocation levels.

Submitters also recommended that interim limits should not be set based on current allocation; a clawback option should be employed where the amount of water allocated through existing consents exceeds the numeric interim limit. Over-allocated water should be recovered when resource consents are surrendered, lapsed, cancelled or replaced.

It was suggested that these provisions should be explored at a regional level and could provide a risk assessment tool for water allocations.

4.6.3 Clawback through regional plan

Clawback is generally supported. Submitters commented that immediate clawback should occur where over-allocation poses a risk to the ecological values of a water body, and should be used to bring allocation back into line with sustainable management principles. However, some stated that it is not clear what consents would be included in the clawback, and suggested that criteria for clawback need to be developed and assessed on a case-by-case basis.

There was also considerable opposition to clawback, with submitters arguing that it is not necessary and it is irrelevant in the local context. It was also argued that any such clawback limiting water use by hydro-electricity generators would be contrary to the target for 90 per cent renewable electricity generation across New Zealand by 2025 as set out in the New Zealand Energy Strategy. Some were concerned about the impact on existing users, and submitters mentioned that clawback should not apply to dam structures.

4.6.4 Other

Some submitters argued that the proposed NES only considers existing consent holders and does not provide for other users (such as recreational users).

4.7 Q7, 8 and 9 – Technical methods

Do you support the aim to provide consistency in the selection of methods for assessing ecological values? Does consistency need to be provided in a national environmental standard, or would guidance documents be sufficient? Do you have any comments on the approach outlined in the technical document Draft Guidelines for the Selection of Methods to Determine Ecological Flows and Water Levels? How should new and emerging methods be incorporated into the process outlined in the proposed standard?

Draft Guidelines for the Selection of Methods to Determine Ecological Flows and Water Levels

A technical document, Draft Guidelines for the Selection of Methods to Determine Ecological Flows and Water Levels, has been developed to complement the proposed NES. It is intended that the document will be referenced in the NES and form the basis for the selection and application of methods to determine ecological flows and water levels. Simple assessment methods would apply where only minor hydrological change to a resource with low ecological value is envisaged, but sophisticated methods (including computer modelling) would be necessary for major alterations to a water resource with high ecological values. It is proposed that the NES will state that the technical document can be updated to reflect any new methods, or to remove existing methods that are no longer appropriate.

Overall there was general support for the proposed technical methods in the submissions on the proposed NES. Submitters noted that the provision of methods would reduce confusion and provide a clear basis for determining ecological flows and limits. However, submissions also requested that the proposed NES provide more clarity and clear guidelines for selecting methods.

There was also some concern about the level of expertise – and consequently the staff training – required for councils to implement the standards. Following are some of the comments on methods.

  • More clarity and guidance are needed on recharge rates and valuing water bodies.

  • There needs to be clarification of the different types of water resource categories (rivers, streams, ephemeral streams, etc).

  • The methods are ill-suited to aquifers where little data or information exists. There appears to be an assumption that in the proposed NES there is ‘basic information’ on aquifer recharge rates, aquifer dimensions or geological geometry.

  • The proposed NES should provide guidelines for the use/selection of methods and acknowledgement of their limitations.

  • The use of the words ‘low significance’ is inappropriate when referring to an ecosystem.

  • The methods should consider the implications of climate change, future land-use change, and natural aggregation/degradation of stream beds on annual and seasonal groundwater recharge.

4.7.1 Need

The majority of submissions supported the proposed approach, stating that consistency in assessing ecological values, selection and the application of the technical methods is preferable and reduces confusion and conflict. However, it was mentioned that empirical evidence should not be dismissed but incorporated into these methods.

A smaller number of responses stated that the methods chosen should not be compulsory, and instead should act as best-practice material and guidance (best practice should be developed in consultation with stakeholders/practitioners). Councils should support the participation of relevant experts in the identification and assessment of ecological values and risk factors.

Some submitters stated that these methods should be incorporated into the proposed NES, thereby requiring them to be implemented. Others suggested that they should be incorporated into a separate document that can be referred to by councils, so that they can use the appropriate method for each individual circumstance. It was also suggested that the complexity of the methods should not be reduced and/or simplified at the expense of measurable objectives and achievable targets.

One non-government organisation (NGO) requested that there be provisions to store water in times of high flows, and another questioned the inclusion of trout above that of native species.

It was suggested that there should be increased support for tangata whenua and iwi to enable their inclusion in flow setting. Furthermore, the cultural health index or cultural impact assessment should be included as a recognised methodology.

4.7.2 Approach proposed

Submitters suggested that a peer review panel should appraise new and emerging methods. It was felt by some that the proposed NES does not provide the flexibility required to accommodate and take account of individual water bodies, especially in different regions and geomorphology.

Some submitters argued that the proposed one-day MALF calculations are inappropriate and preferred the use of monthly measurements. It was suggested that methods be adapted to relate specifically to the immediate waterway/area being considered.

Some submitters stated that the proposed NES should provide a structure that encourages technical and scientific innovation, allowing new tools/methods to be added to the toolbox.

One submitter (a district council) requested that the Draft Guidelines for the Selection of Methods to Determine Ecological Flows and Water Levels be made available as a technical resource only, and that it not be included in the proposed NES.

It was highlighted by some submitters that there is no guidance or framework for establishing values, and that the proposed NES needs to define water resource categories. A holistic approach to setting flow regimes was suggested. One submitter stated that ecosystems should not be evaluated in terms of what is currently present but instead on what has potential to be present.

4.7.3 New methods / innovation

Some submitters seek wider consultation on new methods.

A number of submitters wanted new methods to be incorporated into the approach where and when necessary (one submission stated that they should be incorporated as soon as possible). A regular process for updating the document should be provided to reflect new information and technology. However, others stated that new methods should only be treated as guidelines and not incorporated into the standard. One submitter stated that if the proposed NES were formed as a national standard instead of a guideline, then updating or providing new methods would be difficult.

Some felt that there are too many methods proposed and these should be streamlined, while others wanted the use of multiple methods on each catchment to reinforce the observations of each method. Some submitters preferred independent assessment of the effectiveness of the proposed methods. There was a request for monitoring to be included to help ensure that the approaches used are being successful and to provide a basis for future review/amendment.

4.8 Q10 – Proposed NES approach to breaches

How do you think the national environmental standard should address applications for resource consents that breach the interim limits?

Under the proposed NES, applications that breach interim limits would be non-complying and applications for resource consent could still be considered, subject to section 104 and Part 2 of the RMA. The proposed NES requires that any such application include an assessment of ecological values using the proposed methods set out in the technical document accompanying the proposed NES.

A number of submitters agreed that this status would be appropriate, but over a quarter considered that non-complying status did not go far enough and should be prohibited. It was felt that making breaches prohibited was unjustified, and most of these submitters suggested that discretionary status would be more appropriate. Some stated that a non-complying status should not include water takes for stock and drinking water. It was also argued that the use of interim limits outright was inappropriate and that applications should be considered on their merits. Local and regional councils generally expressed a desire to have more control in the case of applications that breach standards. However, other submitters did not think that retrospective action should be taken in respect of current breaches of the proposed standards.

The other main issue raised by submitters was that the approach to breaches of interim limits is particularly important for addressing cumulative effects of the over-allocation of water. The point was repeatedly made that even minor breaches of limits can have a very significant cumulative effect on water levels. The majority of these submitters believed that greater consideration needs to be given to how the potential for cumulative effects is addressed by the proposed NES.

Submitters believed that the assessment criteria and guidelines for determining interim limits need to be clearer and more robust. It was felt that this is particularly important because of the high financial value derived from the use of abstracted water.

4.9 Q11 – Application of the proposed NES to existing and replacement consents

How should the national environmental standard apply to existing and replacement resource consents in each of the situations outlined in table 2 of the discussion document?

The discussion document examines how the proposed interim limits and methods would apply to resource consent applications over a range of situations, depending on whether or not environmental flows or water levels have been set in a proposed/operative water plan, and/or if they are only incompletely set.

Submitters commenting on the proposed NES generally provided conditional support for the proposed approach on the condition that existing permitted and consented water allocations are protected and can continue unaffected. Some felt that new applications for water bodies where allocation limits have not been set should be treated as discretionary activities, others argued that they should be treated as non-complying activities, and others felt they should be prohibited.

In terms of the application of interim limits to replacement consents there were mixed views. Some suggested that interim limits should not apply to consents being renewed. Others stated that if the interim limits are breached then they should be treated as discretionary activities, while others felt they should be treated as non-complying or prohibited activities.

Some submitters stated that existing consents should be evaluated and altered if they exceed the interim limits. It was also argued that where over-allocation has occurred, prohibition on further abstraction and some methods to reduce allocation should be set out in regional plans.

Submitters sought clarification on a number of matters, including:

  • how the proposed NES will interact with proposed and existing water plans in regions

  • the status of replacement consents

  • whether minimum flow or allocation limits prevail if they conflict

  • timeframes (submissions suggested that consents not be granted for longer than 10 years).

Submitters also stated that the following points need to be incorporated into the approach.

  • Water quality and current allocations from water bodies need to be provided.

  • Recognition should be given to the practicality of the requirement for applying the methods in the technical document at the time of the review of local and regional plans.

  • It should be made explicit that it is the responsibility of the resource consent applicant to apply the appropriate technical methods.

  • Consideration should be given to amending the time period under section 88 of the RMA to give adequate opportunity for assessment of the adequacy of methods used in consent applications.

  • Community and stock water supplies should be exempt from the interim limit requirements.

  • All currently authorised consent water takes should be more fully considered and incorporated into the proposed NES. Specifically, the volumes of water represented by all currently authorised takes should be included in the determination of interim limits.

  • The proposed NES should not apply to any existing consents related to the generation of electricity.

  • In many cases infrastructure investment will have been made on the basis of a particular allocation, and investors should not be disadvantaged.

  • The issue of over-allocation has not been addressed.

  • Monitoring the effectiveness of interim limits should be included.

  • The proposed NES should prescribe methods for the assessment of ecological flows and water levels, including standardised methods for data collection, storage and analysis, in order to provide consistency and allow for comparison of data nationwide.

It was suggested that those involved in the NES process should read the Rio Declaration, Principle 15, and adopt the precautionary approach, and also read NIWA Technical Report 122.1

Councils have the ability to reduce allocations in catchments, should they desire or require. If the interim or default levels are kept in the proposed standard, then some submitters object to the total allocation being reduced every time a permit is surrendered, lapses, is cancelled or replaced. Other water users should have the option to apply for available water that is not already allocated to an existing user.

Submitters thought that in finalising the proposed NES, all currently authorised water takes should be more fully considered and incorporated; specifically, the volumes of water represented by all currently authorised takes should be included in the determination of interim limits

It was suggested that a glossary should be provided and the term ‘ecological flows’ be used instead of ‘environmental flows’.

Submitters indicated that public water supplies should be exempt from the provisions of the interim limits.

4.10 Q12 and 13 – Benefits and costs of preferred option?

Have the range of benefits and costs of the proposed national environmental standard been identified? Are the costs and benefits identified in this document accurate? Do you have other information you would like to see included in the cost–benefit analysis that will occur after submissions are received and analysed? Do you have any comment on the assumptions used in the analysis? Do you have any comment on the partial quantification of costs outlined in this section? Do you have information that would be useful for the full analysis?

A preliminary assessment of the likely costs and benefits of the proposed NES was provided in the discussion document. Four main areas of costs and benefits were assessed:

  • environmental outcomes

  • effects on the regulatory process

  • effects on existing and potential resource consent holders

  • effects on the wider public.

This assessment also included quantification of the tangible costs and benefits identified.

Although submitters to the proposed NES agreed with the intent of a cost–benefit analysis, others stated that a more thorough analysis should have been undertaken at this stage and they queried the accuracy, scope and range of the analysis. This point was used to suggest that inconsistency and uncertainty of analysis will increase costs for regional councils, consent holders and consent applicants.

Submissions stated that regional councils should be required to undertake the necessary technical work required.

4.10.1 Range of costs and benefits identified

A common argument was that the analysis needed to include a number of additional points, or that these points need to be better accounted for. Suggestions included:

  • an additional column for the costs and benefits to biodiversity associated with the implementation of the proposed NES

  • an additional row identifying the costs and benefits of the proposed NES for environmental reporting

  • intangible or non-monetary costs and benefits (including human health and well-being)

  • environmental and community costs and benefits

  • the potential risks/benefits associated with appeals to the Environment Court

  • the impact on the cost to advocacy groups

  • the impact of reduced flows for consent holders using water for intensive horticulture or viticulture production

  • the cost to existing water users for re-consenting and potentially losing their permits

  • the increased monitoring costs, staff-training costs, time for councils to acquire knowledge and vulnerability to losing specialised staff, and the effects on ratepayers

  • an overall more realistic pricing of council processing

  • the competing needs of water users

  • tangata whenua values

  • opportunity costs

  • long-term costs

  • the cost of the proposed NES preventing the granting of consents, which on a site-specific consideration would otherwise be granted.

Submitters would also like to see transparency on how costs are being paid for, and would like to see the ecological costs associated with modifying (and dewatering) riverbeds analysed and published. Some stated that an increase in benefit and a reduction in cost would only result from guidance on technical methods for determining ecological flows and water levels, and then only if the technical methods were accepted by all parties.

A general comment was that the standard deviation of the calculations cannot be measured.

4.10.2 Accuracy of the cost–benefit analysis

One submission stated that in terms of accuracy, the cost–benefit analysis should be undertaken with consideration of the nature of the water resources in the regions in which it will apply.

4.10.3 Assumptions used in the cost–benefit analysis

Some submissions argued that the assumptions made in the proposed NES are incorrect and will make it difficult to achieve New Zealand’s renewable energy targets set by the New Zealand Energy Strategy to 2050. It was also argued that the assumptions regarding submissions and notifications following the amended regional plans are incorrect and optimistic. (Approximately 50 applications are publicly notified now, but if the proposed NES is gazetted then more than 120 will be publicly notified per year for consents that exceed environmental flows.)


1 Jellyman DJ, Unwin MJ, James GD 2003. Anglers’ perceptions of the status of New Zealand lowland rivers and their trout fisheries.