A freshwater expert and campaigner is wary about what the government may change in water rules and how that may affect the quality of rural communities’ drinking water.
Marnie Prickett, a researcher in public health at the University of Otago, said she is concerned some important components of the National Policy Statement (NPS) on Freshwater Management will be lost with a review.
“The last NPS was not perfect and that is often the nature of policy.
“But the Te mana o te wai decision-making framework was a valuable addition to the NPS. It states councils have to consider environmental health and peoples’ health before they can consider commercial activities for water use. It puts people first.
“What we often see otherwise is drinking water quality often loses out, almost as an afterthought, and the consequences of that are massive.”
She pointed to areas including parts of Canterbury where land use decisions have been made in the past allowing irrigation that, had such NPS regulations been in place, would have been blocked.
“Once you have polluted water it is hard to turn it around. You end up spending huge amounts on treatment plants communities cannot afford.”
She said the loss of that human health priority would be a major blow to communities throughout New Zealand.
She is concerned at the use of language from the government, which speaks of a desire to “rebalance” the NPS. It could signal that commercial interests will be put ahead of environmental and human health.
“They also say they want to give regional councils more flexibility on a catchment-by-catchment basis.
“Councils already have such flexibility. The main restriction placed on councils is that they cannot actively make water systems worse, and have to work over time to improve them.
“That idea of increased flexibility indicates they may loosen pollution rules, so councils are not forced to clean up poor water systems.”
She also lamented that another 18-24 months is to be spent in consultation over the NPS review.
“Councils, including Southland, have already said they want to keep going.
“The longer we wait to clean up waterways, the harder and more expensive it becomes.”