Govt announces plan to make rivers swimmable in five years

By Moana Makapelu Lee
  • Wellington

The government has released its freshwater plan today with a focus on working with community, iwi, agricultural and local government sectors to create laws and regulations around freshwater protection, management and distribution.

Environment Minister David Parker and Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor made the announcement on Monday. 

Parker says clean water is a birthright.

“It's just wrong that at the moment some people can't pop down to their local river and put their head under in summer without risk of getting crook and we want to turn that around."

The government is promising a ‘noticeable improvement’ in water quality across the country within the next five years, with new rules to be set in place by 2020.

Parker said he wasn’t sure if all rivers would be swimmable by that time but was confident the country would be seeing measurable progress.

“We’re not only going to clean up our rivers, but we’re also going to protect our estuaries, make sure that our beaches aren’t sewage overflows in storm water systems and restore New Zealand’s waterways to the state that they use to be and we’re all so proud of.”

The five year plan sets out a new approach to the Māori/Crown relationship which acknowledges Māori interests in fair access to water to develop their land.

"What we say is that everyone owns water in New Zealand and we've all got an interest in it but some people have an interest in it that others don't, like commercial water permit holders and Māoridom and we think the way to resolve these issues, in respect of Māori aspirations, is on a catchment by catchment basis,” says Parker.

The government has also appointed three advisory groups; Kāhui Wai Māori, the Freshwater Leaders Group and the Science and Technical Advisory Group to oversee policy and strategic direction.

Agribusiness leader and Māori economic development adviser Traci Houpapa will sit on both the Kāhui Wai Māori and Freshwater Leaders groups.

She says, "The conversations we will be having around the single table with Freshwater Leaders and Kāhui Wai Māori are one in the same.  The benefit of having Kahui Wai Māori is that the focus on a kaupapa Māori approach to wai ora, wai Māori will help provide some balance and some strategic direction for our conversations."

 Parker says there will be a focus on at-risk catchments to halt the decline.  New rules would also include controls to some intensive land use practices and driving good management practices on farms and in urban areas.

National's environment spokesperson, Scott Simpson says the agenda is underwhelming and is setting up more working groups than action.

"This is a government that has now been in office for over twelve months and it’s taken them over twelve months to come up with, actually not much detail at all, and really all we got told today is that it would take another four or five years before the details and specifics of a plan to clean up our waterways would be implemented."

Changes to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and the National Environment Standard will be publicly consulted on next year.