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1 Introduction

1.1 Background

On 20 March 2008 the Minister for the Environment notified a proposed National Environmental Standard (NES) on Ecological Flows and Water Levels under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). The proposal was outlined in the National Environmental Standard on Ecological Flows and Water Levels Discussion Document (the proposed NES). The development of the standard is one part of the government’s Sustainable Water Programme of Action.

Public notices drawing attention to the proposal and the submission period were placed in all major and many provincial papers on 29 March 2008 (a copy of the notice is attached as Appendix A). The notice informed people of:

  • the subject matter and rationale of the proposed standard

  • where and how the proposed standard could be viewed

  • how people could make a submission.

The deadline for the submission period was 5 pm on 29 August 2008.

During the submission period 12 workshops were held around the country on the proposal, spanning May and June 2008. There was a high level of interest in the proposal, with more than 300 people attending the workshops and 166 submissions received.

1.2 The proposal

The proposed NES is intended to complement and enhance the existing RMA process for establishing environmental flows and water levels through regional plans. The proposal has been developed in response to a key challenge of establishing environmental flows through water management identified by regional councils and others. To contribute to the policy outcome: “provide for increasing demands on water and encourage efficient water management” (as set out in the discussion document), the specific objectives proposed are:

  • Objective 1 – To ensure that all resource consent decisions on applications to take, use, dam and divert water from rivers, lakes, wetlands and aquifers are made in the context of a clear limit on the extent to which flows and water levels can be altered.

  • Objective 2 – To ensure that all resource consent decisions on applications to take, use, dam and divert water from rivers, lakes, wetlands and aquifers are made in the context of a clear specification of available water.

  • Objective 3 – To reduce conflict and provide consistency on the appropriate technical methods used to assess the ecological component of environmental flows and water levels.

The proposed NES has two main elements:

  • interim limits on the alterations to flows and/or water levels in those rivers, wetlands and groundwater systems for which there are no limits set in a proposed or operative regional plan (or other statutory instrument)

  • a process for selecting the appropriate technical methods for evaluating the ecological component of environmental flows and water levels – the proposed NES endorses the use of simple methods if there is low demand for water and more sophisticated methods as the allocation demand increases. The process would apply when new environmental flows and water levels are added to a plan, where existing ones are reviewed, or where the interim limits are breached.

The consultation process sought views on the above, but also on situations in which:

  • the proposed NES applies

  • an interim minimum flow may not be appropriate

  • the limits are breached.

1.3 National environmental standard development process

An outline of the proposed NES development process, including the informal and formal submission processes, is shown in figure 1. The Ministry for the Environment has completed the public process stage; the release of the present report on submissions marks the end of the submissions stage.

Figure 1: National environmental standard development process

Figure 1: National environmental standard development process

This flow diagram of the NES development process start with a Public process phase comprising a Scoping proposal with stakeholders. This leads to a Discussion document. This is the informal process.

The Public process continues by Public notification and a Submissions period. This is a 9-week formal process.

Close of submissions is followed by a phase of Analysis which leads to a Report on submissions. The report and recommendations (including a section 32 RMA cost-benefit analysis, and a Regulatory Impact Assessment are completed and a Final proposal to the Minister is made. The Minister consults his colleague, Report and recommendations are released and legal drafting of the standard takes place. Eventually, the Draft becomes regulation.

Note that the NES development process differs from the statutory plan and resource consent process: there are no hearings or appeal provisions as exist for the resource consent or First Schedule consultation processes.

The next steps in the NES development process are as follows.

  • After completion of the cost–benefit report, a final report and recommendation will be presented to government. This is expected to occur mid year 2009.

  • If there is a recommendation to proceed, and it is approved, the report and recommendations will be published. This report will contain the cost–benefit analysis, responses to submissions and final recommendations. The proposed standard will then go through formal legal drafting.

  • If approved by government, the proposed standard is likely to be introduced later in 2009.

1.4 Purpose and outline of this report

This document presents a summary of the submissions received on the proposed NES on Ecological Flows and Water Levels. It is structured as follows.

  • Section 2 is a summary of the key themes raised by submitters.

  • Section 3 summarises general comments made by submitters.

  • Section 4 summarises feedback from submitters on the specific questions asked throughout the discussion document.

The report is intended to provide a concise summary of the views expressed. It is not intended to provide an analysis of those views, or to make any recommendations in response to the submissions, as requested by RMA s44(b)(ii). This will be done in a separate report.