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Executive Summary

The Government established the Sustainable Development Water Programme of Action in 2003 to ensure that the country's freshwater resources are managed to best support New Zealand's future sustainable development. The programme is part of the Government's wider Sustainable Development Programme of Action.

In February 2005, 19 public meetings were held around the country to discuss the issues and options contained in the discussion document Freshwater for a sustainable future: issues and options. The discussion document was released for public comment in December 2004. This report summarises the initial comments made on the document received at the meetings, as well as additional issues and actions raised.

There was general agreement that the eight key issues are challenges which New Zealand faces in the management of freshwater resources. Several additional issues were identified which participants felt were not sufficiently emphasised in the discussion document. These included:

  • urban use and supply
  • integrated catchment management
  • links to the biodiversity strategy
  • climate change
  • biosecurity.

The level of support for each of the 13 actions was dependent on their future shape and form. The following actions received wide support at most meetings:

Action 4: Increase central government participation in regional planning

Central government involvement should include providing information and guidance to local decision-making. Central government participation should not occur at the expense of local involvement in decision-making.

Action 5: Increase central government's support for local government

This action was widely supported. Central government support was regarded as necessary in the following areas:

  • funding for storage and infrastructure
  • funding for science, research and implementation
  • development and dissemination of best practice
  • strategic planning for water.

Action 10: Enhance Maori participation

There was support for building effective relationships with Maori for freshwater management. Resources for participation were regarded as essential.

Action 12: Raise awareness of freshwater problems and pressures

There was widespread support for raising awareness in the areas of managing the effects of diffuse discharges on water quality, and efficiency of water use in rural and urban areas.

Action 13: Collaboration between central government and local government, scientists and key stakeholders on pilot projects to demonstrate and test new water management initiatives

Support for this action included recognising the value of communities, sector groups, Maori, local government, central government, and the science community in working together.

For some actions, it is not possible to draw clear levels of support or opposition due to the initial nature of the comments and the need for further development of the actions. There was uncertainty about how the following actions could be developed:

Action 1: Develop national policy statement

There was support for a national policy statement which identified national priorities and values but it should not interfere with or override local decision-making for freshwater.

Action 2: Develop national environmental standards

There was support for a national environmental standard which could establish environmental bottom lines for freshwater; however regional variations must be provided for. A national environmental standard must not override local solutions which are already working well.

Action 3: Address nationally important values

Views on this action were divided. A national strategy for identifying water bodies which have nationally important values could be useful; however, this would need to include a process for identifying and incorporating local values.

Action 6: Develop special mechanisms for regional councils

Tools are already available under the Resource Management Act but they need to be implemented more effectively through increased support and funding from central government.

Action 7: Enhance the transfer of allocated water between users

Transfer of resource consents could provide more flexibility for water users; however, more development of this action is needed. The monopolisation of water should be avoided, and existing user rights should be protected.

Action 8: Develop market mechanisms to manage diffuse discharges

Few comments were made regarding this action. The need for further development of the action was raised along with alternative approaches for managing diffuse discharges.

Action 9: Set requirements for regional freshwater plans to address key issues and challenges

Few comments were made regarding this action. There was support for the adoption of an integrated catchment management approach when developing plans.

Action 11: Enable regional councils to allocate water to priority uses

Support was expressed for improving the current system for allocating water. Councils should not have to determine the highest value use for water. Equitable access to water would need to be ensured and instream values protected if a market-based approach was adopted.