Wai Ora Fresh Water Policy

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.


Did you know New Zealand has a massive water quality crisis? And is declining in most areas?

TOP is proposing we take our water crisis seriously, and take immediate action to safeguard our freshwater for the sake of the environment and future generations. 

The Problem:

  • We’ve bottled our precious water and allowed the profits to go overseas.
  • We’ve polluted our rivers making them unswimmable.
  • We’ve built suburbs where wetlands used to be, destroying incubators for biodiversity.
  • We’ve doubled our irrigation of land, which means we're using more water in vast quantities.
  • We’ve ignored ecosystem health standards allowing algae to take over.
  • 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. 

TOP's approach

  • 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 the 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.

Working with mana whenua

None of this work 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.

The whole catchment 

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.

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