Monday, April 22, 2024

Feds vice-president welcomes water plans

Neal Wallace
Government intends to amend water quality regs this year.
Federated Farmers Vice President Colin Hurst says New Zealand is getting less water when we need it, and more when we don’t.
Reading Time: 2 minutes

A farming leader has welcomed news of government plans to change water quality rules this year as part of replacement of the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management.

Minister Responsible for RMA Reform Chris Bishop has written to regional councils and stakeholders advising of plans to change Te Mana o te Wai, which regulates water quality.

Introduced as part of the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management (NPS-FM), Te Mana o te Wai includes a hierarchy of uses that prioritises the health and wellbeing of water.

Bishop said changes to this hierarchy will be made through a separate amendment to the Resource Management Act this year.

“Details of the fast-track consenting regime and NPS-FM changes will be worked through over the coming weeks.”

Federated Farmers vice-president Colin Hurst was pleased with the move by the new government.

He said evidence from councils is that a lack of definition about what Te Mana o te Wai meant was stalling consent applications because it was being applied on individual consents rather than regional plans.

Hurst wrote to former environment minister David Parker last June, and gave the example of ECan requiring all consent applications to be dealt with under the Te Mana o te Wai hierarchy.

“ECan state that ‘inconsistency with the hierarchy of obligations is likely to mean consent should be declined’,” Hurst wrote.

“It appears to us that ECan is applying the Te Mana o Te Wai hierarchy at an individual consent level rather than at a more global level through the plan change process.”

He feared this approach would disadvantage farmers seeking consents. 

Bishop says in his letter to councils and stakeholders that a review and replacement of the NPS-FM will happen during this parliamentary term.

To accommodate that process, the coalition government has extended the statutory deadline by three years for councils to notify freshwater planning instruments to implement the NPS-FM.

The government has also announced the Three Waters legislation will be repealed by the end of this month, a move Local Government Minister Simeon Brown said will restore council ownership and control of water assets.

It will be replaced by the government’s Local Water Done Well policy, with the first of two bills to be passed by the middle of this year.

Brown said the policy recognises the role of communities and councils in determining how their sewage, storm and drinking water services are delivered.

“We will do this while ensuring a strong emphasis on meeting rules for water quality and investment in infrastructure.” 

That policy will set provisions relating to council service delivery plans, regulatory regimes and business structures and a new range of structural and financing tools, including the option of financially independent council-controlled organisations. 

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