16 Jun 2010

New policy tough on cleaning up NZ rivers

8:18 pm on 16 June 2010

The Environment Minister has given a strong indication that he plans to adopt a tough new policy on cleaning up polluted rivers.

No action has been taken since a board of inquiry recommended a strongly-worded national policy statement on freshwater management five months ago.

The draft policy would force all regional councils to stop over-allocation of water sources and make a plan to clean up rivers, lakes and underground aquifers.

Environment Minister Nick Smith has previously avoided commenting on whether he favours the policy. Now he says he supports much of the board's work, saying that it has done "quite a good job".

"I am determined," Dr Smith says, "to put in place a national policy statement on freshwater policy. But I don't want to pretend that it's a magic bullet that's going to solve this problem on its own."

Dr Smith says he's waiting for the collaborative Land and Water Forum to report next month before making his final decision.

Federated Farmers, councils oppose policy

The dairying chairperson of Federated Farmers, Lachlan McKenzie, says farmers are strongly opposed to the policy and they are being backed by some regional councils.

They say it would mean a moratorium on the expansion of intensive dairying and all other types of development, including new city subdivisions.

Dr Smith won't say if he supports such a moratorium.

The chairperson of Otago Regional Council, Stephen Cairns, says he and some other councils have been lobbying to have the policy statement rejected.

Mr Cairns says the draft policy is highly prescriptive and highly regulated.

"it's a brilliant piece of legal craftsmanship which could have significant economic implications on all of our economies, not only rural, but urban."

However, the Environmental Defence Society says the draft statement is a "tour de force", which would quickly lead to a clean up of the country's polluted rivers.