Friday, July 1, 2022

Drinking water proposal hard to swallow

Proposed changes to the National Environment Standards (NES) for drinking are set to sting farmers the worst, according to Federated Farmers.

The Ministry for the Environment (MfE) is proposing to make changes to the NES for human drinking water (NES-DW) that limit activities in the vicinity of drinking water sources.

The proposed limitations are likely to have significant impact on farming, especially around requiring a consent to apply agrichemicals.

In a Federated Farmers online seminar outlining the proposed regulations solicitor and senior policy adviser RMA Mike Campbell and group manager policy Paul Le Miere outlined the impact the proposed new regulations would have for farmers and rural communities.

The one clear message being that most farms are going to be impacted.

“If you thought Three Waters was bad, this will get you riled up.

“This is draconian, overly onerous and unnecessary.

“It is the third beast of the Three Waters Reform,” the policy advisers said. 

“The areas the limitations are proposed to apply to are unnecessarily large, particularly onerous and expensive, not just for those who have bores, springs or river intakes on their properties but also for neighbours many kilometres upstream,” Le Miere said.

While Federated Farmers supports clean drinking water, the proposed changes are disproportionate to any risk example requiring consent to apply agrichemicals where there could be no effect on a drinking water source.

“I see the proposed changes as a sledgehammer to crack a nut and these are going to be unnecessary regulations that will sting farmers worst,” Campbell said.

The Water Services Act 2020 places obligations on drinking water suppliers, whereas the proposed changes to the NES-DW will place restrictions that apply to all land users in the vicinity of a drinking water source, regardless of whether they are drinking water supplier or not.

These drinking water sources will have differing levels of protection depending on which of the four source water risks management areas (SWRMA) it is categorised as, ranging from local level to catchment level.

Farmers will need to comply with the NES-DW if they are a supplier of drinking water, other than rainwater captured from a roof.

“I see the proposed changes as a sledgehammer to crack a nut.”

Mike Campbell
Federated Farmers

Water source abstraction points include surface water takes such as rivers, streams and lakes, and groundwater takes being bores and wells. 

So, if you supply human drinking water to worker accommodation, rental houses or cottages on the property, a wool shed, packhouse, horse stables, dairy shed, neighbour’s houses, local hall, or school, you will be impacted as a drinking water supplier.

In terms of new requirements for consents for application of agrichemicals alone a conservative estimate is a $500 million cost to the farming sector.

There is an existing NES-DW but MfE considers that it is too often overlooked in resource consenting process.

“One of the justifications for these changes to the standard is essentially to force regional councils to do more,” Campbell said.  

As the name suggest a NES sets a national baseline and regime of rules that those writing District Plans or running resource consent hearings must abide by.

Council rules can be stricter but not less strict than what is in the NES.

“Unfortunately, it means we have a one-size-fits-all paradigm with no discretion allowed at the regional level unless it is specifically provided for,” Le Miere said.

There is no date set yet for when these nationwide rules will come into effect nor when compliance is required.

Meanwhile Feds is “fighting hard” the unreasonable aspects of the NES-DW.

This includes through a formal submission and policy team members meeting with officials and Ministers.

Feds is also GIS mapping to map the extent of land the proposed restrictions will encompass.

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