12 Mar 2013

Minister defends planned freshwater reforms

10:03 am on 12 March 2013

Environment Minister Amy Adams says proposed freshwater reforms should get people away from rushing to court to solve disputes, an approach which is too prevalent now.

The Government says water quality is deteriorating in parts of the country and it wants local councils and communities instead of the Environment Minister or the Environment Court to determine how water is managed.

Fish and Game New Zealand says the changes would leave rivers and lakes vulnerable to development and are about escalating the public water grab for private industry.

Under existing law, waterways of national significance can be protected by Water Conservation Orders which can restrict or prohibit the taking of water, discharges and other uses of the water.

Applications for the orders are made to the Environment Minister who appoints a special tribunal to hear them. Challenges are heard by the Environment Court.

Under the Government's the proposals, Environment Minister Amy Adams wants to be able to have local authorities make the decision.

Ms Adams told Radio New Zealand's Morning Report programme the major recommendations they've gone with are suggestions by the Land and Water Forum, of which Fish and Game is involved.

She said the process needs to be collaborative so all user groups can get together and try to come up with solutions that work for all of them rather than having an an approach that leaves the court to decide.

Plans 'wreck' river protection

Fish and Game New Zealand is urging a rethink of the proposals saying they will strip key lakes and rivers of legal protection and open them to development.

Chief executive Bryce Johnson said the moves will strip protection of natural resources as regional councils will consider decisions on rivers under weaker legislative provisions.

He said the plans wreck the existing mechanism for protecting rivers from a "greedy few" who want increased irrigation and intensive farming. "It's a bit like saying that we'll improve national parks by allowing mining - I mean that's how bizarre it is."

Federated Farmers said this interpretation of the freshwater proposals is extremely negative and unhelpful.

President Bruce Wills said farmers acknowledge natural water resources must be better looked after, but agriculture must also be able to move forward. "It's about sensible balance regarding continuing to grow agriculture but being more careful than we have in the past with our pristine water."

And the Freshwater Iwi Advisors Group said the reform proposals are a starting point only. The group's chair, Roku Mihinui, said one of the critical interests of iwi is environmental sustainability.

The freshwater management proposals are out for public consultation until 8 April.