Submitted 5 April 2018: Read the NZCA's submission of evidence on Te Waikoropupū springs and associated water bodies (including the aquifers, Takaka River, and tributaries) Water Conservation Order.

Submission date: 5 April 2018

The Legislative Basis for the New Zealand Conservation Authority submission

1.  The New Zealand Conservation Authority (NZCA) was established under the Conservation Act 1987.

2.  The NZCA has a range of powers and functions, under the Conservation Act 1987, as well as under other conservation related legislation. Under the Conservation Act, Section 6C (2) (c), the NZCA has the power to “advocate the interests of the Authority at any public forum or in any statutory planning process.”

3.  The Act sets out the Functions of the Department of Conservation which include: “To preserve so far as is practicable all indigenous freshwater fisheries, and protect recreational freshwater fisheries and freshwater fish habitats” (Section 6(ab)).

4.  One of the NZCA’s statutory functions is to approve conservation management strategies and conservation management plans, and review and amend such strategies and plans. They constitute the key management documents for directing conservation effort and resources in New Zealand. Many of these documents have objectives, policies and outcomes relating to the conservation of fresh water habitats and fresh water fisheries.

5.  Another function of the NZCA is to investigate any nature conservation or other conservation matters it considers are of national importance and to advise the Minister or the Director- General of Conservation, as appropriate. The NZCA sees the protection and management of fresh waterbodies to be a conservation matter of national importance and has consistently identified fresh water ecosystem restoration, management and protection as one of its strategic priorities.

6.  Following the logic of the above powers and functions, the NZCA submitted in support of the application for a Water Conservation Order over the Te Waikoropupū springs and associated water bodies (including the aquifers, Takaka River, and tributaries)

NZCA Advocacy for fresh water protection

7.  The NZCA has taken a close interest in fresh water issues in New Zealand over at least the last decade including publishing a report in 2011 on “Protecting New Zealand’s Rivers”.

8.  The NZCA’s current advocacy on fresh water issues recognises and reflects the widespread public concern about water and the biodiversity therein (notably whitebait and long-fin eel). The NZCA recognises the high significance New Zealanders place on “healthy” rivers, wetlands, lakes and estuaries; these places are an inherent part of being a New Zealander. 

9.  As indicated above, fresh water bodies are a significant feature of Conservation Management Strategies. These 10-year planning documents developed and amended, based on submissions from a wide spectrum of the New Zealand community, set out how conservation priorities and assets are to be managed.

10.  Media reports over the last two decades have, to a large degree, concentrated on the deterioration of water quality and water quantity issues in lowland water bodies, where land-use intensification has had the greatest impact. The NZCA believes a wider perspective on freshwater issues should be adopted that takes into account conservation concerns and the upper reaches of waterways (many of which are located within land areas administered by the Department of Conservation).

11.  Accordingly, the NZCA perspective on fresh water covers:

  • The requirement for a “headwaters to sea” integrated approach (including estuaries and immediately affected inshore marine environments).
  • Emphasis on the diverse range of freshwater ecosystem types (rivers, streams, lakes, hydrologically connected groundwater, spring- fed streams, wetlands, estuaries, coastal lakes).
  • Healthy fresh water ecosystems (maintaining the diversity of in-stream habitat types, riparian margins, natural flow regimes, a high standard of water quality).
  • Preservation of indigenous fish species.
  • Protection of indigenous aquatic flora and fauna (additional to fish species), as part of the food web.
  • Recognition of the ecosystem services public conservation land provides to fresh water ecosystems beyond the boundary of such lands.
  • The public accessibility of fresh water resources.
  • Public health issues associated with degraded water quality.
  • Permanent protection of fresh water bodies. 

12.  In relation to the last point – permanent protection of fresh water bodies - the NZCA’s 2011 report on “Protecting New Zealand’s Rivers” specifically addresses Water Conservation Orders (WCOs). A copy of the full report is attached as part of this Evidence.  The use and effectiveness of WCOs are discussed in Sections 4 & 5. The 19 recommendations from the report are summarised in Section 7 (Enhancing River Protection NZCA recommendations). Recommendations 13 to 17 relate to Water Conservation Orders (WCOs). The “Rivers” report - the various points of discussion and recommendations - has helped inform the NZCA evidence for the Hearing today.

General support

13.  The New Zealand Conservation Authority (NZCA) supports the making of a WCO on the Te Waikoropupū Springs and associated water bodies (including the aquifers, Takaka River, and tributaries).

14.  The NZCA is of the view that the Te Waikoropupū Springs have outstanding amenity and intrinsic values, while the aquifers, Takaka River, and tributaries have amenity and intrinsic values which warrant protection.

15.  The NZCA views WCOs to be an appropriate statutory planning mechanism for the conservation of water bodies in New Zealand:

a)  with outstanding amenity or intrinsic values of waters in their natural state; and,
b)  where waters are no longer in their natural state, the amenity or intrinsic values of such waters warrant protection because they are outstanding.

16.  Given the history of WCOs and the present NPS for freshwater initiative under the RMA, the NZCA views the application for a WCO over the Te Waikoropupū Springs and associated water bodies (including the aquifers, Takaka River, and tributaries) at this time is entirely appropriate. In the NZCA view the Application is seeking the protection of outstanding amenity and intrinsic values and the setting of environmental bottom lines for the ecosystem and conservation of the springs and associated water bodies NOW, rather than waiting for the NPS freshwater Policy outcomes which will be decades away. There will undoubtedly be further losses of outstanding amenity and intrinsic values in the coming years, if the WCO is not granted and the NPS for freshwater is the only planning tool to be relied on.

17.  The application for the WCO should be viewed as being complementary and of great assistance to the NPS freshwater process for the Te Waikoropupū Springs and associated water bodies (including the aquifers, Takaka River, and tributaries).

18.  The NZCA makes the point that WCOs are a national planning instrument. Therefore, where a water body has outstanding values, it is a more appropriate long-term protection mechanism than Regional Plans under the RMA, which are reviewed and subject to change every 10 years. A WCO has a much higher level of protection and cannot be changed easily based on a whim of local body politicians.

19.  A WCO is therefore a much more secure form of preservation and protection of the outstanding amenity and intrinsic values of the water bodies, subject to the application. Regional Plans offer no guarantees, re the consistent and permanent protection of water bodies, as WCO do.

The Applicants

20.  The NZCA notes the application has been made jointly by Ngāti Tama Ki Te Waipounamu Trust and Andrew Yuill and has been a cooperative approach.  This is significant and adds strength to the application in that it recognises and provides for all the matters in Section 199 (2) of the RMA.

Water conservation orders

199 Purpose of water conservation orders

(1)  Notwithstanding anything to the contrary in Part 2, the purpose of a water conservation order is to recognise and sustain—

(a)  outstanding amenity or intrinsic values which are afforded by waters in their natural state:

(b)  where waters are no longer in their natural state, the amenity or intrinsic values of those waters which in themselves warrant protection because they are considered outstanding.

(2)  A water conservation order may provide for any of the following:

(a)  the preservation as far as possible in its natural state of any water body that is considered to be outstanding:

(b)  the protection of characteristics which any water body has or contributes to, and which are considered to be outstanding, —

(i)  as a habitat for terrestrial or aquatic organisms:

(ii)  as a fishery:

(iii)  for its wild, scenic, or other natural characteristics:

(iv)  for scientific and ecological values:

(v)  for recreational, historical, spiritual, or cultural purposes:

(c)  the protection of characteristics which any water body has or contributes to, and which are considered to be of outstanding significance in accordance with tikanga Maori.

21.  The application is therefore holistic, ecosystem based and ensures any WCO which may be made will mean the amenity and intrinsic values will be managed in an integrated way, rather than in an ad hoc fashion or single value as has been common in the past. The NZCA is of the view that this approach provides an important step forward for the Rivers and local community.

WCO history

22.  The NZCA is mindful of the history and evolution of WCOs.

23.  Up to the point when the Water and Soil Conservation Amendment Act 1981 (also known as the Wild and Scenic Rivers Amendment) was enacted, New Zealand’s rivers were under increasing development pressure. Rivers were seen from an “engineering “ perspective only – i.e. available for exploitation for all manner of uses, treated as a means of disposing of waste and all manner of contaminants, managed and modified by mechanical means to ensure water travelled as quickly as possible to sea without flooding adjacent productive land. They were not managed from an ecological perspective. Instream habitats were often destroyed by repeated mechanical manipulation of channels and gravel. In-stream values and other intrinsic values were not regarded to be of significance. The 1981 Amendment was designed to “re-balance” the nation’s narrow approach to managing our rivers. 

24.  WCOs, under the Amendment Act, were designed to promote conservation values of waterbodies, rather than economic values, within a national framework. The purpose of WCOs has largely carried forward to the RMA.

25.  To date 15 Applications for WCOs have been made and granted, with various conditions, but not within any Government driven policy national framework, as originally intended in 1982.

26.  Since the enactment of the Amendment, and particularly from the early 1990’s, onwards New Zealand’s waterbodies have come under more pressure from development and, in particular, land-use change and intensification.

27.  The consequences of these pressures are that New Zealand fresh water ecosystems have suffered through abstraction of water for irrigation, declining water quality, loss of habitat quality and quantity, declining native fish populations, and declining habitats of river dependent and associated bird life.

28.  The NZCA would argue, that without the existing WCOs, New Zealand’s waterbodies would overall be in an even worse state than they are currently.

29.  Concern about the state of New Zealand’s freshwater bodies has been to the forefront of public concern for at least three decades now. The National Policy Statement (NPS) for Freshwater is attempting to put some protection in place but current policy around maintaining and improving degraded water bodies will be in the “several decades” time frame. The NPS freshwater is based on an ecosystem health approach, but the national bottom lines for many contaminants are not considered to be adequate to protect human and ecosystem health. Some contaminants (e.g. phosphorus and sediment) do not have national bottom lines. Limit setting for contaminant levels and water abstraction quantities and rates within catchments is a logical next step.

30.  Given this background, the application for a WCO over the Te Waikoropupū Springs and associated water bodies (including the aquifers, Takaka River, and tributaries) at this time is entirely appropriate. In the NZCA’s view the Application is seeking the protection of outstanding amenity and intrinsic values and the setting of necessary environmental limits for the health of the ecosystem and conservation of the river system now, rather than waiting for the NPS Freshwater Policy outcomes which, based on progress to date in other districts/regions will be decades away. With such delays, there will undoubtedly be further losses of outstanding amenity and intrinsic values, if the WCO is not granted and the NPS for Freshwater is the only planning tool to be relied on.

31.  The NZCA also believes the application for the WCO should be viewed by the panel as being complementary and of great assistance to the NPS freshwater process for the Te Waikoropupū Springs and associated water bodies (including the aquifers, Takaka River, and tributaries).

Conservation management and planning documents

32.  The NZCA notes the application refers to the conservation of the Te Waikoropupū Springs in the following documents:

  • the Nelson Marlborough Conservation Management Strategy
  • the Te Waikoropupū Springs Scenic Reserve Management Plan (2009)

33.  The NZCA supports the information provided and in particular notes the objectives contained within the Reserve Management Plan:

34.  The Objectives state:

1.  Preservation, protection and recognition of the national and international significance of the indigenous biodiversity and ecosystems of Te Waikoropupū
2.  Protection and preservation of the intrinsic values of Te Waikoropupū that provide benefit and enjoyment to the public

Specific comments

Spring habitats

35.  As far as the NZCA is aware, this is the first WCO specific to a spring ecosystem, to be applied for. This is unique in itself and so noteworthy. Such habitats of the size and scale of the Te Waikoropupū Springs are unique and rare in NZ and therefore worthy of protection. 

Native fishery

36.  The application gives a thorough account of the native fishery of the spring system. We support the analysis and note the declining conservation status throughout NZ of some of the species present. The NCZA is of the view that the making of the WCO will provide permanent protection to the ecosystem which will enhance the sustainability of these native species. The WCO over the Takaka River and tributaries will have the added benefit of enhancing and protecting habitats in these river and stream systems.

Flow and water level regimes

37.  River Flow regimes drive the amenity and intrinsic values of rivers and in particular the function and structure of freshwater ecosystems. Section 200 of the RMA recognises this by enabling restrictions or prohibitions to be put in place around all parameters of a fresh water body’s flows when a WCO is made.

Section 200 Meaning of water conservation order

In this Act, the term water conservation order means an order made under section 214 for any of the purposes set out in section 199 and that imposes restrictions or prohibitions on the exercise of regional councils’ powers under paragraphs (e) and (f) of section 30(1) (as they relate to water) including, in particular, restrictions or prohibitions relating to—

(a)  the quantity, quality, rate of flow, or level of the water body; and

(b)  the maximum and minimum levels or flow or range of levels or flows, or the rate of change of levels or flows to be sought or permitted for the water body; and

(c)  the maximum allocation for abstraction or maximum contaminant loading consistent with the purposes of the order; and

(d)  the ranges of temperature and pressure in a water body.

38.  Consideration of the flow regime also needs to take in to account the effects of ground water abstraction from unconfined aquifers. Depending on the degree of aquifer connection to the river, ground water abstractions result in stream depletion and can have a significant impact on river low flows. The following paper:

Hunt, B (1999): Unsteady Stream depletion from Ground water pumping. Groundwater Vol 37, No 1,

and some of the more recent updates, is now the basis for determining the effects of pumping on stream flows and for defining water policy.

39.  The NZCA submits that full consideration be given to the flow and level regimes of all the waterbodies to be included in any WCO. Ecosystem values are not only determined by minimum flows or levels alone, as has been the approach to water allocation in the past. Mean and median flows and levels help define ecosystem productivity and ecosystem health as do the number, frequency and duration of flood peaks and low flow/level events.

The draft WCO and the need for a precautionary approach

40.  The NZCA notes the proposed draft WCO. The intent of the proposed Order is supported.

41.  Based on the information provided the NZCA notes:

(a)  The intricate balance between DO, carbon levels, periphyton biomass and water clarity

(b)  the information provided about spring water levels and flows and the variable conductivity levels as a result of sea water intrusion

(c)  The increase in NO3 levels within the catchment since the 1970’s

42.  This information suggests to the NZCA that a precautionary approach, to setting the conditions of the Order, is required. In particular we suggest:

The NO3 levels measured in the Spring are at a level where ecological impacts are likely. To protect the Springs, NO3 levels in groundwater need to be reduced. They are currently very close to moving from Band A to Band B within the NPS for Freshwater standard system for NO3. This surely is inadequate in terms of protection of this internationally significant waterbody. The WCO needs to set a standard to ensure a healthy ecosystem long-term. This in turn would provide a visionary objective to improving ecosystem health within the overall catchment. Setting levels for NO3 and NH4, which reflect well documented and researched “healthy ecosystem levels” as a condition of the WCO would be an appropriate precautionary action. The ANZEEC Guidelines (2000) provide appropriate levels for both these contaminants to ensure ecosystem health.

43.  This also has the advantage, in terms of giving clear direction to the Tasman District Council and their operative Resources Plan, which currently recognises the significance of the Springs, but gives no suitable protection to the Springs within the Plan.  It would also give additional recognition of the need to manage the springs based on a holistic/whole catchment approach.

44.  It is noted that 500l/s is allocated within the catchment. A further 355l/s may be made available for allocation in the future.

45.  The WCO conditions again must take a precautionary approach in terms of water allocation, and the condition should not allow any further allocation of water unless there is scientifically proven capacity to do so without detriment to the Te Waikoropupū Springs ecosystem. The flow/level regime of the springs needs to be protected from over- and inappropriate use. The relationship between the sea water intrusion, spring flows and levels and the finely balanced ecosystem needs to be quantified in order to be better understood. In the absence of this science-based evidence, a precautionary approach to the protection of the current flow/level regime should be adopted and reflected accordingly in the WCO conditions. 

46.  The application recognises and places considerable importance on the linkages between surface and groundwater flows and levels. This is the correct approach and is supported by the NZCA. This approach is critical to the long-term sustainability of the Te Waikoropupū Spring ecosystem.


47.  The NZCA supports the making of a Water Conservation Order for the Te Waikoropupū Springs and associated water bodies (including the aquifers, Takaka River, and tributaries).

48.  A WCO provides a more appropriate protection mechanism for long term permanent protection of the amenity and conservation values of these springs, aquifers and rivers, than under the 10-year Regional Plans under the RMA. Furthermore, these is good evidence from elsewhere in New Zealand that WCOs add considerable value to Regional Council planning processes and need not be in conflict with the inter-generational use of water resources for economic purposes.

49.  An ecologically based flow/level regime should be an integral part of the WCO and this should include the hydraulically connected groundwater resource, when minimum flows are being set.

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