Wai Ora Fresh Water Policy

TOP’s Freshwater Policy for Conservation and Supply in Aotearoa New Zealand

Did you know New Zealand has a massive issue with water quality declining in most areas? We’ve built suburbs where wetlands used to be, we’ve polluted rivers killing our native fish, we’ve ignored ecosystem health standards allowing algae to take over, we’ve doubled our irrigated land, we’ve bottled water and allowed the profits to go overseas, and we’ve ignored the rights of Māori as per the Treaty of Waitangi. Worst of all, successive governments have actively looked the other way and told farmers and councils it’s all their fault.

At TOP we know how bad it is. Add in some climate change, increasing rainfall causing massive flooding, and our love affair with deforestation, and you can understand why there is no time for dilly-dallying with advisory groups or making plans. We just want to get on with it:

  • Ensure freshwater conservation is hard-wired into planning legislation nationwide.
  • Implement measurement and monitoring standards, so we can accurately see how fast the water crisis is escalating.
  • Ensure nationwide oversight by an independent Freshwater/Te Mana O Te Wai Commission tasked with providing nationwide oversight of freshwater management. This was recommended to government in 2010 and 2019 and carries the support of the Waitangi Tribunal, Freshwater Leaders Group, Kahui Wai Maori, Fish & Game, Environmental Defence Society and Climate Change Commission...alas the government is still thinking about it.
  • Develop and enforce environmental standards that provide for human, cultural and ecosystem health. This will include a limit of 1mg/l for nitrogen as recommended by the majority of scientists.
  • Require all regional councils to monitor freshwater in the same way at the same times, and make this information publicly available, so citizens can hold decision makers accountable for water quality.
  • Legislate that all water takes must occur alongside a reciprocal improvement to that water body.
  • Limit pollution to only that which does not breach defined water quality measures.
  • Upgrade water treatment systems and infrastructure to best practice.
  • Ensure the right farm type in the right place, and operate within the environment's capacity.
  • Support catchment groups to work together to come up with catchment goals. Provide them access to science, professional facilitators and mapping professionals.
  • Provide excellent and freely available resources to guide land use, use satellite imagery and drones for mapping land and vegetation at high resolution, and make these resources available nationwide. With this information we can direct land use to appropriate areas, identify areas for restoration, and identify areas for stock exclusion.

However, none of this can happen without resolving Māori Treaty claims, iwi rights and interests in freshwater. Government can’t charge commercial users or penalise polluters without resolving who has the ownership rights to the water in the first place. This is why this work with mana whenua is so important, and the delays to date have only made our freshwater decline worse.

Water quality, land use and allocation, and loss of freshwater habitat are all related and need to be managed by looking at the whole catchment together. For some places in NZ this is going to be a challenge and take real effort and time, but doing nothing will certainly bring irreversible damage to our biodiversity. It is TOP’s goal that we will be able to leave our environment for the next generation in a better state than we’ve inherited it, so our children will be able to enjoy the same lakes and rivers that we once did.

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Page last updated on 6-Aug 2020