Submitted 31 October 2019: Read the NZCA's submission on the Essential Freshwater: Action for Healthy Waterways Discussion Document.

Submission date: 31 October 2019
Submitted to: Ministry for the Environment 

The Legislative Basis for the New Zealand Conservation Authority (NZCA) submission

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

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.”

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”. Additionally, under The Wildlife Act 1953, Part 1 Section 3, the Department has a responsibility that “all wildlife is hereby declared to be subject to this Act and…to be absolutely protected throughout New Zealand and New Zealand fisheries waters”.

One of the functions 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 fresh water to be a conservation matter of national importance and has consistently identified fresh water management as one of its strategic priorities. Indeed, it produced a report in 2011 entitled “Protecting New Zealand’s Rivers” to highlight the national significance of these waterways, and provided 19 recommendations on how they could be better managed and protected (attached as Appendix One).

One of the NZCA’s statutory functions is to review, amend, and approve conservation management strategies and plans. These 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 fresh water habitats and fresh water fisheries and wildlife.

The NZCA also has a function to investigate and advise the Minister or the Director-general on any conservation matter; fresh water issues fall under ‘any conservation matter’.

Following the logic of the above powers and functions, the NZCA has decided to submit on the MFE Consultation Document – Action for Healthy Waterways.

NZCA Advocacy for Fresh Water

The NZCA has taken a close interest in fresh water matters in New Zealand over at least the last decade. In 2008 the Authority adopted a policy entitled “NZCA Fresh Water Principles” and this was updated in 2016 (attached as Appendix Two).

The NZCA’s current advocacy on water issues recognises and reflects the widespread public concern about fresh water. The NZCA recognises the significance New Zealanders put on rivers, wetlands, lakes and estuaries; these places are an inherent part of being a New Zealander.

As indicated above, water bodies are a significant feature of Conservation Management Strategies. These documents have been developed and amended, based on submissions from a wide spectrum of the NZ community.

Media reports over the last two decades have, to a large degree, concentrated on deterioration of water quality and water quantity issues in lowland water bodies, where intensification of land use has had the greatest impact. This is of concern from an environmental perspective.

The NZCA prefers to take a wide conservation perspective on the fresh water issue. The NZCA perspective on fresh water environments 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 freshwater 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 that public conservation land provides to fresh water ecosystems beyond the boundary of such lands.
  • Public accessibility of fresh water resources.
  • Public health issues associated with degraded water quality.
  • Permanent protection of fresh water bodies.

The Department of Conservation has set a series of conservation “Stretch Goals” to be achieved by 2025. One of these Stretch Goals is to have 50 freshwater ecosystems restored from ‘mountains to the sea’.  The NZCA strongly supports these Stretch Goals and has required that all departmental planning documents, as they are reviewed, include them and indicate how plan objectives will contribute to their attainment.

The NZCA is of the view that if the Department of Conversation freshwater ecosystem Stretch Goal is to be achieved by 2025, then the NPS-FM needs strong national bottom lines and the timeframes of policy documents need to be closely aligned.

NZCA Submission

The following submissions are the NZCA’s main concerns about the proposals. The submissions follow the structure of the consultation document and online submission platform.

The NZCA submission is based on the Authority’s analysis of:

  1. The Essential Freshwater: Action for Healthy Waterways (AHW) document
  2. The Draft National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FW)
  3. The Proposed National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES-FW) and
  4. The Stock Exclusion Section 360 Regulations.

1. General responses to the proposals

a) Proposals as a whole

The NZCA supports the overall direction of the Action for Healthy Waterways document, the Proposed National Environmental Standards for Freshwater, and the Draft National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

The proposed freshwater management reforms have much to be commended, they encourage a holistic approach to ecosystems health and provide greater direction in instances where there is uncertainty.  The NZCA are encouraged by the opportunity the reforms present for strengthening the conservation of freshwater environments and the indigenous species associated with and dependent on these environments.

b) Impacts and implementation

An outcome the NZCA hopes can be achieved with the proposed freshwater reforms is an improvement of the alignment between the Resource Management Act (RMA) and Conservation legislation, with long term and permanent benefits for indigenous freshwater species.

The NZCA thinks the proposed directions will assist in reducing degradation. Material improvement will depend, to some degree, on the time it takes for nutrient load to move through subsoils/sub-terrain into waterways; in some areas this could take up to 30 years.  In addition, existing consents granted prior to current freshwater reforms, can have up to 35 years to run their course.

The NZCA submits that a stronger direction on the review of consent conditions to ensure these deliver on national and regional policies and objectives is required to allow intervention where catchment water quality issues warrant it.

c) Water commission and other comments

The NZCA has reservations about the timeframes proposed through these reforms. The goal of noticeable change within a decade is ambitious provided that Regional Councils have until 2025 to solidify their plans; however the subsequent actions arising from those plans may take decades to achieve improved environmental outcomes.

The NZCA has concern about the considerable increased workload to regional councils who, in most cases, will need to raise rates and employ additional staff to respond to the proposals. This, in turn, will place similar burden on farmers, stakeholders, and environmental groups to respond and engage on the regional processes.  Equally the demand that will be placed on iwi will be significant; the relationship between iwi/hapu and councils will elevate to a level that will require stronger partnerships than ever before.

The NZCA submits that there will need to be an injection of well-placed Crown resources to facilitate change and a development of tools and models that assist transitions. This onus needs to be distributed more evenly across the beneficiaries as well as the landowners.

2. Questions on the proposed amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM) and ecosystem-health aspects of the proposed National Environmental Standards for Freshwater (NES)

d) Te Mana o te Wai

The NZCA strongly supports the concept of Te Mana o te Wai, where the priority is the health of water followed by essential human health needs, and finally by consumptive uses.  Such a concept broadens the approach to valuing water for its many qualities, not the least its natural life supporting capacities. An intergenerational approach adds to the power of this concept. 

The NZCA submits that in order to support the concept of the health of the waterway having priority, there will need to be broad discussions at the community level to cement the understanding of Te Mana o te Wai and what this will mean for their local waterways.  

e) New planning process for freshwater and redrafted National Policy Statement

The NZCA supports a National Policy Statement that provides a clear and consistent approach to water reforms, requiring regional plans to focus on their local circumstances. This will allow the acceleration of current planning timeframes.

The NZCA supports the concept of directing more integrated management of land and freshwater. This concept has been part of the RMA since 1991. The 2011 Freshwater reforms attempted to strengthen integrated management. It is a difficult concept to achieve, given that Resource Consents are typically very site specific. The 2019 proposed NPS-FW provides further clarification under 3.4(4) and when considered alongside 3.4(1), there should be more relevant progress in achieving integrated management. 

The NZCA submits that to achieve integrated management as intended, the NPS-FW Policy 3.4(1) needs to be reworded to provide for alignment with the national policy statement for indigenous biodiversity (NPS-IB):

(1) Regional Councils must, consistent with te Mana o te Wai:

  1. a) recognise the interactions ki uta ki tai between freshwater, land, waterbodies, freshwater ecosystems, other ecosystems, sensitive receiving environments (including the coastal environment) and the indigenous species and their habitats which are part of these environments.
f) New Māori value and new threatened species values

The NZCA supports the proposal to incorporate Maori values in freshwater management and planning, as these values are integral to the approach of recognising Te Mana o te Wai. Proposals 1 and 2 together will ensure that tangata whenua values, including mahinga kai and kaitaki duties, hold weight and are recognised in the processes of freshwater management.

g) Exceptions for major hydropower schemes

The NZCA does not support the proposed exceptions for major hydropower schemes. There is no doubt that the 6 listed hydropower schemes are an important part of NZ’s infrastructure; a fact that is already recognised under S7 of the RMA. The Authority is concerned, however, that allowing these exceptions raises a challenge for those catchments that are subject to a hydro regime and the impacts that an operating regime may bring to downstream values, braided rivers and wildlife security and estuarine health.  

As an example, the Manapouri Power Scheme has been in operation for 50 years and diverts approximately 450m3/s of water from the Lower Waiau River into Doubtful Sound. This diversion has had devastating impact to the Lower Waiau River ecosystem and the wider community including, but not limited to; loss of freshwater habitats for fish and wildlife, severe impacts on the river ecosystem, disruption to fish passage, lowering of riparian aquifer water levels, bank erosion along the length of the Lower Waiau, sediment movement, loss of recreational values, and loss of economic opportunity in the lower catchment. The local Waiau and wider Southland community have been working with Meridian Energy Ltd and its predecessors for 28 years in attempts to resolve issues around the impacts of reduced flows in the Lower Waiau River. Many of these initiatives have only been possible arising from the obligations on the consent holders which were prompted by the current RMA provisions.

The proposed exception will make future improvements to the river ecosystem through the NPS-FW and the Resource Consent renewal process for the Manapouri Power Station in 2031 very difficult. There is potential that the degradation of the Lower Waiau river ecosystem will continue until 2066 if the Resource Consents are granted on similar terms in 2031. This potential time frame will represent nearly 100 years of a disrupted river ecosystem with untold repercussions.

Without the exceptions to this hydro scheme, there is opportunity to improve the flow regime of the Lower Waiau River and hence the health of the river ecosystem. These opportunities need to continue to be explored and changes implemented to ensure the ongoing improvement of New Zealand ecosystems.

The NZCA submits that the NPS-FW 3.22 sub clauses (2) and (3) are unacceptable. These hydro power schemes have major environmental responsibilities for the resources they use and the freshwater habitats they have permanently altered. We are aware that the communities these power companies operate in feel very strongly about the impacts of these schemes on the community’s natural resources.

The NZCA submits the exception proposed for the 6 major power schemes in the freshwater reforms should be deleted.

h) Nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment attributes 

The NZCA supports the addition of sediment as a new attribute; an item NZCA advocated for in the 2017 “Clean Water Package” submission. It is extremely important to freshwater and marine ecosystems and benthic values in receiving environments, given the impact of discharges from rivers to the marine environment. Equally, requiring attributes such as copper, zinc and dissolved oxygen to be monitored and kept within limits are positive additions.

The addition of these attributes resolves to recognise freshwater in its collective health from mountain to sea. There is an acknowledgment of intensive land use and the direct impacts of this activity on freshwater and marine ecosystems. This new focus on monitoring and proactively managing attributes of ecosystem health is the first step in understanding the real impacts of intensified land use. The Authority stress the importance of adequately protecting those areas not yet degraded by sediment.

The NZCA supports the movement away from an effects-based approach and towards a proactive management approach that uses prescriptive provisions. The evidence is that the effects-based approach in the extreme examples is unable to be enforced.  The direction this will give in setting standards and limits on intensive winter grazing, hill country cropping and feedlots will be positive. 

The NZCA submits that in this analysis of attributes at a catchment level, anomalies, such as storms, that impact on sediment load should be considered when assessing the compliance of farms regarding sediment level targets. As further analysis is completed, a definition of what sized storm/runoff event can be mitigated in a pastoral/farm situation may be possible.

i) Ecosystem health policies

The NZCA strongly supports a better protection of wetlands and sensitive downstream environments including estuaries. The previous contention in defining what is a wetland and what is not has come at great cost to New Zealand. There has been significant loss to wetlands through drainage and development; preventing further loss must be a national priority.  The Authority commends the proposed NPS-FW for providing clear direction to Regional Councils around what needs to be in Regional Policy Statements and Regional Plans to protect wetlands. 

There has, in the past, been a problem with the responsibility of wetland protection and management sitting ambiguously between Regional and Territorial Government. The provisions relating to wetlands in the NPS-FW and NES-FW relate to water management and are thus firmly within the ambit of Regional Councils. The NZCA supports this intention that wetlands, including issues relating to their vegetation, will be solely under the jurisdiction of Regional Councils.

The NZCA submits the NPS-FW and NES-FW clarifies that management of the water regime in wetlands, irrespective of land tenure, falls to regional councils. This jurisdiction being with Regional Councils is supported.

j) Ecosystem health attributes 

The NZCA strongly supports the concepts of ecosystem health, aquatic life, habitat protection, wetland and stream protection, fish passage, water quality, and water quantity issues; including the NES-FW Appendix 2A updated attribute tables and the prescribed limits. These concepts are not only important for freshwater resources but for the protection of indigenous biodiversity. 

Nutrient allocation processes are useful tools to set limits on nutrient levels. The zoning of catchments allows targeting of catchments, bringing a focus of efforts to the areas most at risk. The result is a heightened potential to halt decline and bringing about steady improvement in water quality. Identifying at risk catchments will add greater scrutiny to those areas that are most at risk and emphasise restoration needs.

k) Swimming

In the NZCA 2017 “Clean Water Package” submission, the Authority submitted that the E. coli National Bottom Line should be set at the less than or equal to 260 E. coli per 100mls. This is a well-established standard and has been accepted for more than 15 years now. The NPS-FM needs to be more aspirational, in terms of the E. coli national bottom line. The proposed swimmable E. coli bottom line represents a shifting the goal posts in terms of human health risk.  There is no scientific evidence to justify a lowering of the standard for primary contact to 540 E. coli per 100mls. The NZCA supports the proposed Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment.

The NZCA submits that the national bottom line for contact recreation/swimmability be set at 260 E. coli per 100mls until new guidelines can be determined through the proposed Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment.

l) Flows and metering

An important issue the NES seeks to address is the situation where minimum flows of ecological flow and levels are non-existent, a critical issue if instream values and water quality are to be addressed. Setting a national standard for metering is essential; the NZCA notes that, in alignment with RSWS, there may need to be some exceptions where technology does not enable this approach.

3. Drinking water, stormwater and wastewater

m) Drinking Water National Environmental Standard

The Authority gave no comment to this proposal.

n) Stormwater and wastewater

The NZCA would like to note the importance of stormwater and wastewater regulation. The economic costs are minimal when viewed in the larger context of environmental health. The Authority anticipates further consultation regarding stormwater and wastewater safe practices.

4. Improving farm practices

o) Restricting further intensification

The Authority gave no comment to this proposal.

p) Farm plans

The NZCA supports mandatory farm environmental management plans. They provide a constructive and direct way individual farmers can work to achieve good management practices including stock exclusion.

The Authority notes the dairy accord that Fonterra has with their suppliers requiring fencing of all waterways may have been hurriedly proposed and, as a result, not entirely effective. The proposed 5m setback from streams requires a case by case assessment and likely results in greater areas being fenced off. A case by case and catchment level approach may be more effective at identifying appropriate setbacks or “retirement of lands” required to achieve appropriate containment of sediment, nutrient and phosphate loss, and habitat protection. 

The NZCA submits that biodiversity should be included in the farm environment management plans. The Authority are concerned with advocating an awareness and action around biodiversity with farmers. 

q) Immediate action to reduce nitrogen loss

The Authority gave no comment to this proposal.

r) Excluding stock from waterways

The NZCA supports the proposal to use farm plans to identify additional stock exclusion and setbacks for smaller streams. The Authorities 2017 “Clean Water Package” and 2016 “Next Steps for Freshwater” submissions raised the issue of streams less than 1 metre wide being included in the stock exclusion provisions. These small streams, modified water courses and farm drains have biodiversity values, and are important refugia for non-migratory galaxiid species as well as short and long fin eel. The assessment of these smaller waterbodies using the farm plans allows bespoke approaches to stock exclusion and fencing; consequently, having a positive effect on biodiversity values.  

The NZCA supports the draft stock exclusion section 360 regulations; they are focussed on the right areas and graduated accordingly. The Authority note that there is no mention of sheep or goat in the draft Stock Exclusion Section 360 Regulations. Sheep naturally are averse to entering water, they will cross water if forced during mustering, they will go to water to drink but generally not stand in it. If a sheep inclusion ban was imposed, the costs and practical implementation of such a requirement would be considerable. Large areas of extensive farming land might become more attractive for the billion trees scheme.

The NZCA submits that a problem definition is required to identify whether a blanket ban on sheep exclusion is likely to overestimate the effects of sheep on water quality in non-intensive grazing situations, run country and dry country farming.

s) Controlling intensive winter grazing and t) Feedlots and stock holiday areas

The NZCA supports rules to control intensive winter grazing, hill country cropping and feedlots. These will assist in addressing practices that are unsustainable and that contribute to the degradation of waterways. 

u) Other comments on the proposed National Environmental Standards for Freshwater

The Authority gave no comment to this proposal.

5. Policy Interactions

v) Interactions between NPS-FM, NES and other policies

The NZCA supports the approach to align the RMA national direction. This is critical to achieving integrated management. The authority supports the alignment intended with the Biodiversity Strategy and the National Policy Statement for Indigenous Biodiversity.


Appendix A: Section 7 of "Protecting New Zealands Rivers" (NZCA, 2011)

Appendix B: NZCA Freshwater Principles (NZCA, 2016)

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