Eight key issues for improving freshwater management in New Zealand were identified in the discussion document as follows:
Issue 1: National and regional strategic planning for water management could be improved
Participants commented on the value of having a national freshwater strategy which articulated the national interest and established national outcomes. This would provide guidance for improved strategic planning:
[There is a] need to set priorities for water nationally but need to recognise regional differences. (New Plymouth)
Defining the national interest in water would be useful. (New Plymouth)
At the Christchurch, Timaru and Blenheim meetings participants suggested that a long term strategic approach is needed for water management:
There needs to be a long-term vision and a determination of how much water will be set aside. Planning for water resources needs to be strategic. (Blenheim)
Concerns were also raised at the Blenheim meeting about the time taken to develop and implement regional water plans.
Some central government intervention in regional planning in the form of information sharing, guidance and best practice was supported. One participant at the Napier meeting stated that having more support from central government during the early implementation stages of the Resource Management Act would have been helpful.
Some participants raised concern that communities could be responsible for maintaining outcomes that have been set at the national level. The need for funding for regions and communities to implement a national framework and national outcomes was raised at the Greymouth and Palmerston North meetings.
Issue 2: Nationally important values need to be better addressed
Some support was expressed for this issue, such as the need for a national strategy to identify nationally important waterways. Support was also expressed for the articulation of national values and the important guidance this information would provide for plan development.
However, concerns were raised about how nationally important values would be determined and how local values would be taken into account:
How do you assess local versus national criteria? (Christchurch)
Participants also expressed concerns about the identification of lists of water bodies and how this would be undertaken. Some participants suggested that this work should be undertaken at the local level:
Balances between values need to be found at the local level; we need a system that is transparent and collaborative for identifying national values. (Masterton)
Identifying water bodies of national importance is a subjective thing to do. Small streams could be missed from the lists. (Nelson)
Some participants commented on the need for a more strategic approach than water conservation orders to protect nationally important values:
Review water conservation order provisions; need a more strategic approach. (New Plymouth)
Take out water conservation order processes, they are limiting to the national interest/ balance. (Timaru)
Issue 3: Setting environmental bottom lines and allocation limits is costly and contentious
The importance of scientific information in setting environmental bottom lines was widely recognised. A lack of scientific information and data currently available was identified as an issue at many of the meetings:
There is a problem of insufficient scientific information; central government could assist with resources for this. (Dunedin)
The high cost of research required to obtain good scientific information was raised at several meetings. However, generally the need to set environmental bottom lines and allocation limits was recognised as important regardless of the expense involved:
Environmental bottom lines are a must. (Whangarei)
At the Blenheim meeting it was noted that the cost of not undertaking necessary research would be considerably more expensive than the cost of funding research.
Participants at the Palmerston North, Invercargill, Masterton, Hamilton and Christchurch meetings raised the need for consistency of methods for setting environmental bottom lines. Central government was held responsible for providing funding for setting environmental bottom lines and allocation limits. Participants noted however, that implementation was best undertaken at the regional level with guidance and funding from central government:
Councils need consistency in guidelines and approach; implementation must be at the regional level. (Hamilton)
National standards could provide more consistency in administering the Resource Management Act but would need to be accompanied by funding. (Taupo)
One participant at the Palmerston North meeting raised the need for best practice guidelines for water allocation:
We need best practice guidelines for water allocation - the process should be easy if it is carried out within the guidelines. (Palmerston North)
Issue 4: Water is over-allocated in some catchments, is not consistently allocated to its highest value use over time, and can be wasted
Discussion at most meetings on the current system for allocating water reflected the view that over-allocation is an issue that needs to be addressed in some catchments. Participants also discussed the available alternatives to the current system for allocating water such as transferring permits using an administrative approach or a market-based approach.
There were mixed views on whether water is consistently allocated to its highest value use over time. Some participants commented that the first-in-first-served model is incapable of allowing water to be allocated to the highest value:
Greater values can miss out under first in first served; good land-use areas could miss out on having water for production because the water is already allocated. (Blenheim)
Participants at the Alexandra, Timaru and Invercargill meetings also expressed this view. Other views in support of Issue 4 included:
[We] need some way of prioritising uses, primary producers should come first for the allocation of water. (Auckland)
Many views were expressed on the difficulty of allocating water to the highest value use. Several participants commented that councils should not have to 'pick winners' amongst uses and values:
Deciding which use of water is more important is impossible, each project must be considered on its merits. (Wellington)
Specific comments were made regarding the use of market-based tools such as auctions and tenders to allocate water to the highest value use (refer to comments on Action 7 Enhance the transfer of allocated water between users and Action 11 Enable regional councils to allocate water to priority uses).
A clear view was expressed by many participants that water use could be more efficient. The need for support for investigating the development and use of technology which is more efficient was raised at many of the meetings:
Irrigation technology is poorly developed; many water users are unaware of how to be more efficient. (Invercargill)
Many participants commented on the need for compulsory water meters for water users. This reflected the view that it is essential for councils to know how much water is actually being used in order to manage the resource effectively:
Water metering is a good idea, all regional councils should require water metering. (Gisborne)
Raising awareness through information and education programmes was also regarded as an important aspect of using water more efficiently. Some participants felt that urban water users also need education on water conservation. Many suggestions were made for systems for rainwater collection and recycling of water in urban and rural areas:
There should be incentives for people to collect their own roof water. (Whangarei)
Issue 5: Tension between investment certainty and planning flexibility
Many participants expressed the view that existing investments in water infrastructure and permits should be recognised if a new or modified allocation system is introduced. Greater flexibility was regarded by many participants as desirable and could be provided by the increased use of transfer of permits; however, this was not to be at the expense of recognising existing investments.
Concerns were raised about the potential for undermining or taking away of existing water users' rights if a transferable system is implemented:
Security of water is essential to landowners. (Alexandra)
We are concerned about security of tenure - business and enterprise need certainty. (New Plymouth)
Existing consent holders need security and protection. (Timaru)
The current system was regarded by some as offering protection for existing users. In some cases, reluctance to move to a new or modified system was linked to concerns about losing existing rights to use water:
'First-in-first-served' protects existing investments; don't throw the whole system out. (Timaru)
Equity issues and the rights of existing users should be considered. (Gisborne)
Mixed opinions were expressed on the appropriate length of resource consents to provide sufficient investment certainty or planning flexibility. A shorter timeframe was favoured by some participants at the Palmerston North and Gisborne meetings. However, at the Timaru meeting consent duration was thought to be too short, and needed to be extended beyond 35 years.
Issue 6: Māori participation in water management could be improved
There was general agreement that Māori participation in water management could be improved. Many participants raised the need to raise awareness and understanding of the cultural perspective of freshwater, and to involve Māori in decision-making over freshwater resources. One participant at the Hamilton meeting suggested that central government should consider why councils have not exercised legislative powers appropriately to involve Māori. Concern was also raised by one participant at the Invercargill meeting that the discussion document did not articulate the relationship between the Crown and Māori:
The document did not show the relationship between the Crown and Māori; there needs to be a good relationship; central government needs to take a leadership role with building relationships with Māori and other groups, people need to be informed and have knowledge of the issues. (Invercargill)
There was a view that meaningful participation of Māori in decision-making required sufficient resources for Māori organisations and councils. (Refer to Action 10 Enhance Maori participation for specific comments.)
Issue 7: A lack of effective action in the management of diffuse discharges of contaminants on water quality, in some catchments
Water quality was a key issue raised at all of the meetings. Some participants raised concern that not enough emphasis was given to water quality issues in the discussion document. One participant at the Hamilton meeting stated that not enough emphasis was given to managing nitrate discharges. Some participants also asked how the recommendations outlined in the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment's report Growing for good would be incorporated into the Sustainable Development Water Programme of Action.
Some participants supported the development of a national environmental standard to address water quality issues in some catchments. However, a standard was not to be in place of or to override local solutions for managing water quality issues which are already working well. The need to balance local and national objectives links to Issues 1 and 2.
Better integration between regional, district and city councils was regarded as important to some participants for managing the impacts of land-use activities on water quality. Participants also raised the need for the science and policy communities to work together to develop solutions.
Many participants raised the need for education and awareness raising programmes to improve adverse land-use impacts on water quality:
We need a land-use education programme. (Whangarei)
We need education and funding around good land use practices. (Palmerston North)
Local initiatives such as riparian management programmes were discussed at many of the meetings as local solutions that are working well. Participants raised the need for funding for more local initiatives.
Issue 8: Development of water infrastructure is not keeping pace with demand
Many participants considered the development of water infrastructure to be a priority issue:
Participants raised the issue of development of water infrastructure, and in particular, funding for water storage and infrastructure at all of the public meetings. In order to resolve this issue, central government was regarded as having a key role in providing funding and leadership. A participant at the Timaru meeting stated:
There is a need to identify water storage sites for all uses/options. Central government should provide funding for the infrastructure needed. (Timaru)
At the Nelson and Invercargill meetings participants favoured central government providing subsidies to farmers for dams so that the whole country could benefit from their production. Similarly, a participant at the Nelson meeting commented that it is essential for central government to take leadership in this area as individual farmers are unlikely to invest in infrastructure development without support. A participant at the Blenheim meeting regarded all water running out to sea as being under-utilised.
Security of infrastructure was also considered to be an important issue by some participants. The following concerns were raised by a participant at the Taupo public meeting:
Security of infrastructure is an issue. There is a need to provide for the needs of the country over time. It is not an issue that can be solely looked at on a catchment basis. Maybe there is a need for a growth strategy for the country. (Taupo)
Urban use and supply
Many participants raised the need for urban water issues to be explicitly included in the Sustainable Development Water Programme of Action. Questions were asked by many participants why urban use and supply has not been included in the discussion document.
What about urban water quality? The presentation gave the impression that urban issues will not be considered because it is too hard. (Napier)
One participant at the Rotorua meeting stated that there needs to be an urban focus as well as a rural focus when considering water quality. A similar view was raised by a participant at the Hamilton meeting:
[I am] concerned about the land and water interface and land use control. This is an urban issue as well as a rural issue. (Hamilton)
Specific urban water quality issues, such as the need to consider waste water disposal when considering resource consent applications for subdivisions, and the effects of septic tanks were raised at the meetings.
Improving the efficient use of water in urban areas was an important issue for many participants. One participant at the New Plymouth meeting raised concern that the Building Act does not allow for water to be used efficiently. Some regarded urban water users as wasteful.
Why do we need high quality water for washing cars? Urban wastage is huge. (Wellington)
The need for recycling systems to be installed in urban areas was suggested by many participants.
Water in urban areas goes down drains. There needs to be better recycling and storage facilities for water in urban areas. There are opportunities for water recycling. (Invercargill)
The option for rain water collection systems was also discussed.
Better use and efficiency of water in urban communities is needed; for example, collection of rain water. (Dunedin)
Integrated catchment management
The value of whole-of-catchment solutions which recognise the links between water quality and water quantity were discussed by many participants. Some felt that the discussion document did not articulate the links between quality and quantity clearly. One participant at the Masterton meeting stated:
There is a need to deal with all catchment interactions that affect both water quality and quantity. This inter-relation isn't adequately identified in the document or recognised in the community - solutions need to focus on integrated catchment management. (Masterton)
One participant at the Greymouth meeting commented that an integrated catchment management approach could also allow for lagoons and wetlands to be included in the programme.
Some participants thought that recognition of biodiversity values was lacking in the discussion document. One participant at the Christchurch meeting noted that there is no discussion in the document about the value of wilderness or landscapes for biodiversity. Some participants suggested that the biodiversity strategy should be included in the programme.
The effect of climate change on water availability was raised at some of the meetings. Participants suggested that climate change effects should be incorporated into the programme, and that a precautionary buffer in any allocation system was needed. One participant at the Alexandra meeting supported greater flexibility in a water management system to accommodate climate change effects.
One participant at the Greymouth meeting raised concern about the transfer of aquatic weeds to water bodies. A question was asked whether the programme would address this problem.