Submitted 20 January 2009: The NZCA is seriously concerned about the status and management of freshwater resources and views the National Policy Statement (NPS) as an important opportunity to improve their management.

Submission date: 20 January 2009
Submitted to: Board of Inquiry Water

The New Zealand Conservation Authority (NZCA) is seriously concerned about the status and management of freshwater resources and views the National Policy Statement (NPS) as an important opportunity to improve their management.

The NZCA supports the proposed NPS in part and opposes it in part. It identifies in this submission the changes it would like made to the proposal. The NZCA would like to be heard on its submission.

There has long been a widespread perspective that water is a renewable resource. This is at best a half-truth.

The NZCA supports the development of an NPS, so that Regional Councils will at last be given the mandate to manage freshwater in a much more stringent way.

They will also need the resources to carry out the job. We are concerned, particularly for the smaller councils, that have neither capability nor resources to carry out these extra monitoring functions, nor to pursue any litigation arising or prosecutions required by breaches of new rules.

Central government must take the lead in directing effective implementation, to avoid individual councils developing methodology in a piecemeal fashion, and in assisting under-resourced councils to make meaningful progress towards the overall goal.

Some aspects of water management should be managed, and funded, at a national level, including quality monitoring, provision of community wastewater and storm water treatment plants and large scale catchment management plans along the lines of Gisborne District’s Sustainable Hill Country and East Coast Forestry Projects.

The NZCA would like the overarching goals for this NPS to be -

  • New Zealand’s freshwater ecosystems contain abundant indigenous aquatic life including eels (tuna) and whitebait
  • Some freshwater ecosystems remain in their natural state, without ‘development’
  • Water is safe to swim in and gather food from, and the mauri of water is respected.

Any consumptive use of water should be allowed only within the limits of the above. Water should be managed nationally as a common, shared resource and should not be privatised.

In-channel values should be given far greater status and protection.

A set of principles by the NZCA to guide its response to issues relating to freshwater management are attached.

The NZCA considers the following to be the essential elements that must be specifically addressed in a National Policy Statement:

  1. Integrated Catchment Management
    • Catchments where water is over-allocated and claw back is required
    • Catchments where water quality is degraded and discharges need alternative management
    • Catchments of ecological significance which need protection from over-abstraction and discharges including diffuse run-off
  2. Integrated Catchment Management is not mentioned in the Proposed NPS; however it is crucial. Water quality and quantity is inextricably linked with land use and one cannot be managed in isolation from the other.

    The NZCA would like the NPS to require and direct staged introduction of catchment management plans. The plans must prioritise actions with clear timelines for implementation and targets for redress in:

    Land uses that severely impact on water quality should be regulated, and physical and ecological linkages must be recognised and provided for.

    Issues relating to connectivity should be given particular priority to protect in-channel values, to maintain river discharges to sea, to allow catchment-wide movement of migratory fish, and to maintain supplies of sands and gravel to the coast necessary for the stability of shorelines subject to heavy coastal wave action.

  3. Protection of Indigenous Biodiversity
  4. The NZCA regards in-channel values (including biodiversity, recreation, cultural, social and aesthetic values) as of priority equal to, or higher than, extractive uses, and catchment management plans should make provision for this.

    The NZCA is deeply concerned that New Zealand is losing all of its wild and scenic rivers, as well as other rivers, in their natural state.

    While some freshwater catchments are protected within national parks, national park status does not confer full protection to the water contained therein. Anyone can apply for resource consent to take water from a national park. Water Conservation Orders are the only protective mechanism currently available. These are considered on a case-by-case basis, require very expensive legal processes to achieve, and can still be challenged at any time (and have been in recent times).

    The NZCA would like the NPS to initiate a national priority-setting process, requiring some waters be left in their natural state to maintain our ecological heritage, even if this means that restriction on abstractive uses precludes maximum economic advantage in some catchments.

    The NZCA notes that the NPS delegates to the regions decisions on specifying regionally “outstanding” freshwater resources that “require priority to be given to protection in order to achieve the purpose of the Act”. This is essentially no change to the current system, has not up until now achieved the protection required, and is therefore an inadequate provision.

    Freshwater bodies and systems other than rivers also need protection. Wetlands must be given high priority given the very intensive levels of wetland drainage in all parts of New Zealand.

    Improving water quality in lakes is of high importance to New Zealanders and requires management of non-point sources of pollution including nutrients and sediment.

    Groundwater resources are not well understood in many regions, and therefore need to be managed in a precautionary way until factors such as recharge and connectivity are better understood.

    Geothermal waters need particular protection due to their limited distribution and unique values.

  5. Minimum flows and allocation
  6. The concept of Ecological Flows and Water Levels1 must be applied to ensure that the biological values of rivers (as well as other in-stream, recreation, and Tangata Whenua values) are sustained and protected from decline caused by abstraction.

    Decisions to allocate water should be made in the context of catchment management strategies wholly focussed on long-term sustainability, rather than highest economic gain.

    The NZCA expected to see in the NPS, a policy framework for the implementation of Ecological Flows. This is not explicitly addressed. In-stream values are not given adequate emphasis, nor is existing over-allocation addressed. The NZCA would like the NPS changed to cover these matters.

  7. Existing Uses
  8. The NZCA considers a crucial aspect of the way forward for river management is to initiate claw-back provisions for some existing allocations, to ensure that all river management is sustainable and equitable among both various river users and in-channel values.

    All water allocation plans, and many individual consents will need to be reviewed with the objective of achieving the best use of abstracted water.

    Existing consents without a specified consent period need to be given expiry dates.

    The NPS as written does not give a mandate for this to occur, but seems rather acquiescent regarding existing uses.

    Nutrient and sediment runoff from agricultural land, from forestry blocks during and post-harvest, and urban storm water run-off are three significant non-point sources of water pollution.

    This NZCA would like the NPS to direct Councils to take strong action on such existing uses, backed by central government funding. Regional councils will not be able to deal with these long-standing and difficult issues on their own.

  9. Governance Issues
  10. National responsibilities to Maori under the Treaty of Waitangi must be met, and water management policies and practices should therefore ensure that these are provided for.

  11. Links with the Proposed National Environmental Standard on Ecological Flows and Water Levels
    • Assess social and cultural values attached to water
    • Establish significant “notable values”(low/medium/high) of a water body
    • Make decisions and develop policy frameworks particularly in regard to abstraction applications that are likely to breach minimum flows and allocations.
  12. In its submission on the Proposed National Environmental Standard on Ecological Flows and Water Levels, the NZCA suggested some key actions required in national policy to complement the NES. They include guidance on how Councils are to:

    The NZCA would like such guidance included in this NPS.

  13. The following points pertain to specific sections of the draft NPS as notified:

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The NZCA supports the objective that water quality “meets the aspirations of all New Zealanders”. The aspiration of the NZCA is that water be safe for food gathering; it does not consider “swimmable” water quality a sufficiently high goal. The NZCA would like to see a step-wise progression in water quality to food gathering standard, with measurable interim targets set for five-yearly intervals. If continuous improvement is not seen, then management regimes will have to be adapted.

Objective 1

Should be amended to read “…managed in a way and at a rate that enables the people and communities of New Zealand, including future generations, to provide for…”

These words must be included as they are crucial for water management, and in order to reflect the intent of the RMA

Objective 2

This objective is very unclear. We advocate that whole-of-catchment management is the ultimate objective, along with managing rivers from “the source to the sea”, and with actual land use matched closely with land use capability2.

Objective 3

“Swimmable standard” should be achieved as an absolute minimum. As mentioned already, the NZCA would like freshwater to be safe for food-gathering as well.

Objective 4

The NZCA would like to see very high levels of protection for some of New Zealand’s “best” rivers, so that some are preserved in as close to their natural, wild state as possible.

We are concerned that “inappropriate development” is not specifically defined in this policy statement, yet this is the type of guidance needed by decision makers.

This objective must put much more emphasis on the protection of ecological values.
The NZCA would like Objective 4 re-written to accentuate the importance of the following:

  • The connectivity of freshwater ecosystems
  • Priority for protection of indigenous ecosystems and species
  • The need for total protection of some freshwater systems in their natural state
  • The need to ensure that ecological values are not damaged by cumulative effects
  • That minimum flows not be allowed to become the typical flow regime of a river.

Objective 5

There is an historical trend for uses providing economic benefit to prevail over other uses.  It is time to face up to the fact some land uses (particularly intensive farming) are not appropriate in some areas, and if water quality may be seriously affected, should not be allowed.  Some proposals for dairy conversion, for instance, would be best curtailed at the very early planning stage.

The concept of Land Use Capability should be revisited.  Farm nutrient budgets (and their implementation) should be mandatory across all of New Zealand.

The NZCA would like Objective 5 expanded to address existing degradation resulting from current land uses, and to require that all waterways must, within specified timeframes, comply with nationally agreed water quality standards.

Objective 6

The NZCA would like Clause (b) amended to read: “the need to provide for resilience against the biophysical effects of natural climate variability and climate change…”

The NZCA would like the inclusion of two additional clauses:

“The need for protocols to resolve conflicts that arise both over demand for water and over impacts and effects on water”, and

“The need to safeguard in-channel and ecological values”.

Objective 7

“Efficient” use of fresh water is a crucial concept and the NZCA would like it to be specifically defined.
The word “excessive” in sub paragraph (b) weakens this statement:  the NZCA would like this changed to read “avoiding contamination”.

Objective 8

The NZCA would like the word “reflected” replaced with the words “provided for”, in order to be consistent with the RMA s 6 (e). 

Objective 9

The NZCA considers that “effective monitoring” of water quality and quantity by councils and territorial authorities must be nationally consistent, or alternatively provided by one national agency.  It is essential to capture a useful dataset, consistent between regions, from which meaningful information can be derived.

For instance, the NZCA considers that one essential component will be the ability to compare rainfall data with observed river flows, across the whole country.

Therefore the NZCA would like the NPS to specify to councils exactly what monitoring is required.

Policy 1

The NZCA believes the NPS should give councils more specific guidance as to what is required of them.

The NZCA would like the following alteration to clause (h):  “… to effectively manage Land-use and Development and discharges of contaminants to prevent the adverse effects…”

The NZCA is concerned about the phrase “Land-use development” used throughout the document.

In our view, this NPS cannot achieve improvement, and can only attempt to prevent further degradation of freshwater unless all such references are amended to read “Land-use and development”.

The NZCA would like the following insertion into clause (g) in order to address ‘claw back’:

“…to restrict existing takes…in order to sustain Notable Values and non-consumptive Tangata Whenua Values and Interests in over-allocated waterways and catchments, and in times of low flow in any waterway; and…..”

Clause (i) (ii) is about demand – the NZCA would like provision to control/limit non-essential uses where water resources are scarce.

Clause (i) (iii) is of significant concern.  The NZCA would like under-utilised consents to be surrendered or default to the council and not automatically transferred to another user. 

Resource managers can then decide whether this water may be available for another abstractive use, or whether it should be allowed to remain in-channel to provide for other values such as biodiversity, food gathering and recreation. 

If consents were to be transferred, sustained low flows may become the norm for long periods and natural flow variability, especially in drier seasons, will be reduced.

The NZCA would like Clause (i) (v) to read: “Avoids adverse effects”.

Similarly, in clause (j) (ii) the NZCA would like “controlling” changed to  “preventing”.

Policy 2 and Policy 3

The NZCA supports the requirements outlined in Policies 2 and 3, but points out that “industry best practice” is not necessarily an acceptable standard, and should not be relied upon, other than as an interim minimum requirement while specific quality standards are defined.  Recent reports of the shortcomings of Fonterra’s Clean Streams Accord highlight this point. 

Policy 2 (c): The NZCA would like this Policy to be applicable to existing consents once regional plans are operative under s 128 (1) (b) of the RMA. 

The sub-clauses of Policy 2 (c) assume that consent conditions will address a range of issues including efficiency, adequate in-channel flows and water quality – however the NZCA would like these factors to be considered when considering whether to enable the granting of consents in the first instance, not just in setting the conditions of consent.

There is, as already mentioned, no provision in this NPS directing existing over-allocations be reviewed, and the NZCA would like this added. 

Policy 4

The NZCA would like the following change to clause (e):  “The importance of avoiding over-allocation of Freshwater for Consumptive Use, and redressing over-allocation where it occurs through the use of claw-back mechanisms:”

The NZCA would like clause (h) to be amended to read: “The values of swimmability and food-gathering to the community.”

Unless the NPS is amended to set priorities, or provide clear methodology for determining these, this policy is likely to cause conflict within communities over the relative priorities of (a) through to (h) and engender a raft of Environment Court appeals. 

Policy 5

The NZCA would like clause (a) to be amended to read: “The importance of controlling Land-Use and Development in a way and at a rate that avoids adverse effects on water quality and minimises adverse effects on the available quantity of Freshwater Resources:”

As stated for Policies 2 and 3, the reliance on “industry best practice” is not necessarily an acceptable standard.   

Policies 6 through 9

We support Policies 6 to 9 as written.

In particular, we strongly support Policy 6 (a), and advocate that water “freed up” through more efficient use should indeed be returned to the watercourse rather than being reallocated for another extractive use.


Phrases such as “Notable Values” and “Outstanding Freshwater Resources” are somewhat confusing.  We presume they fall into the category of “Matters of National Importance” (s 6 of the RMA).   We are unsure whether “Notable” is the same as “significant” under s 6 (c), or more akin to “outstanding” in s 6(b)?   The NZCA would like these terms and phrases to be explained as to their status and meaning.

Other definitions that the NZCA would like clarified are

  • “Consumptive Use” (to clarify that this does not include diversion) and “Environmental Flows and Water Levels”. 
  • “Over-allocation”, to read “where current allocation exceeds the specified default national standard”
  • “Efficient Use” – we are concerned more efficient use might, paradoxically, allow more intense land use development to occur, further degrading water quality
  • “reasonable domestic needs” and  “reasonable needs of an individual’s animals for drinking water3. (Application of s14 RMA exemptions)

About the submitter

The New Zealand Conservation Authority (NZCA) is a statutory body, established by section 6A of the Conservation Act 1987, having functions centred on policy and planning for conservation areas managed by the Department of Conservation.

The NZCA also has the power to advocate for any conservation matter of national importance, and to take part in any statutory planning process. 

Members of the NZCA comprise a diverse group, appointed by the Minister of Conservation on the nomination or recommendation of four specified bodies (4 members), in consultation with three specified Ministers of the Crown (5 members) and after consideration of public nominations (4 members).

1 The NZCA submitted on the National Environmental Standard on Ecological Flows and Water Levels (this is attached), and advocated for a precautionary approach in setting such levels.

2 We emphasise our comments under ‘Integrated Catchment management’ on p2 of this submission.

3 This was mentioned in the NZCA submission on the Proposed National Environmental Standard on Ecological Flows and Water Levels.  

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