In 2014, a National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management was introduced. It was the first serious attempt to use the N.P.S. as an instrument to prescribe freshwater policy in New Zealand. The N.P.S.-F.M. which was amended in 2017 will be superseded by a new one this week. But how keen are politicians on improving our freshwater resource?
On the centre-right, National, whose voter base is dominated by farmers and business owners is not keen and National leader Judith Collins initially said that the reforms would be “gone by lunch time”. Although Ms Collins has since back tracked somewhat, the overall support in the party for improvement of the resource is low and generally viewed as unnecessary red tape.
On the centre-left, the Labour Government of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is supporting the new N.P.S.-F.M. which seeks to broadly overhaul the checks and balances on use of the resource by farmers. The broad aims are to reduce the presence of livestock in freshwater bodies including lowland streams and smaller rivers, to require farms to have management plans and data loggers recording their water takes from groundwater and surface water sources.
New Zealand has a long and deep association with its freshwater resource. We use it for electricity generation; a multitude of water sports; farming; industrial and domestic uses. It supports an array of fisheries, some of which are not found anywhere else in the world. Maori iwi have ancestral linkages to the freshwater, its use for transportation, as a source of kai, and as ancestors the strength of the mauri (life force) is an indicator of its health. In the central North Island, Tainui whose ancestral lands cover much of Waikato are strongly linked to the river of the same name, in the same way that Ngati Tuwharetoa are linked to the volcanoes of Tongariro National Park and Ngai Tahu to Aoraki/Mount Cook.
Causes of the decline in fresh water quality can be traced to excessive nutrients going into freshwater, mainly from dairy farms. If waterways are not appropriately fenced off cows will urinate/defecate in the water. The break down of this introduces high levels of nitrogen which is bad for aquatic life in the streams, which in turn impact on the fish. In urban areas a failure to adequately treat runoff from roofs, road surfaces and industrial sites means a range of heavy metals find their way into water bodies such as the Avon or Heathcote Rivers in Christchurch.
The 2020 N.P.S.-F.M. takes effect on 03 September 2020.