A comprehensive approach to sorting issues on management of
New Zealand's rivers and streams. Photo from ODT files.
When it comes to freshwater management, urban and rural
water must be treated equally - whether it is a stream in
Karori or one in the Maniototo.
That is the belief of Federated Farmers water and environment
spokesman Ian Mackenzie, who described the national policy
statement for freshwater management as the most comprehensive
approach to sorting environmental issues for New Zealand's
The new national standard for fresh water was a ''tough
regime'' and there was ''absolutely no free pass for farming
whatsoever'', the Mid-Canterbury farmer, said.
''Farmers and townies are in the same boat when it comes to
freshwater quality,'' Mr Mackenzie said.
It carried significant implications for agriculture but it
also meant the pain - ''and there will be some'' - would be
While the rural sector was generally welcoming of the
national policy statement, others were not so convinced.
Concerns had been expressed from the organisations such as
Forest and Bird, which was concerned the standards might
encourage some councils to propose that rivers and lakes be
allowed to become ''toxic'' to wildlife.
The Green Party's water spokeswoman, Eugenie Sage, said there
was a ''freshwater crisis'' and more than 60% of monitored
river swimming sites were unfit for swimming.
''The Government's national bottom lines won't fix it and
instead allow irrigation and intensive agriculture to
expand,'' she said.
Effective regulation, that prevented further degradation and
improved the quality of the country's rivers and lakes, was
desperately needed, she said.
Dr Mike Joy, a senior lecturer in ecology and environmental
science at Massey University, told TVNZ's Breakfast
programme it was a ''completely backwards step'' for the
country's fresh water.
Labour's water spokeswoman Meka Whaitiri described it as
''just window dressing'', and said the strategy would fail,
because the Government had set incomplete and weak minimum
Environment Minister Amy Adams has hit back at criticism,
saying claims were wrong that the standards would lead to
deterioration of fresh water.
''In 2011, the Government required councils to maintain or
improve the water quality in their lakes, rivers, wetlands
and aquifers across their region.
''If their water quality is already above the national
standard announced [last week], it cannot be allowed to
''Where a water body is below the national standard, councils
and communities will need to ensure that the standard is met
over sensible and realistic timeframes,'' Ms Adams said.
The national standards were focused on targeting bodies of
water that were below those levels and did not affect those
where councils had chosen a higher standard, she said.
Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy said the changes
balanced economic growth with environmental sustainability.
''It's not an either-or situation, we need both. Primary
industries contribute more than 76% of our merchandise
exports and largely depend on fresh water, while tourism also
relies on the beauty of New Zealand's water bodies.
''We all want sustainable and profitable primary industries.
That will means changes to some of our farming practices, but
I know farmers are up for the challenge,'' he said.
DairyNZ's strategy and investment leader for sustainability,
Dr Rick Pridmore, said there was a firm commitment from the
industry and from farmers to implement the new standards.
''Where there's an agreed problem that needs fixing, we'll
get in there and do our bit,'' Dr Pridmore said.
The key challenge would be applying the standards at a local
level and clever solutions would be needed to fix problems in
a way that kept farmers in business and delivered what
communities wanted for their local waterways.
It would be about collective action by dairy farmers but it
was also going to involve work by councils, community groups,
environmentalists, other farming sectors and scientists, he
A single focus on dairy farming was not the answer. There
would always be a range of factors affecting water quality.
''You need to have everyone in the tent looking at what they
can do to help,'' he said.
Fonterra acting group director co-operative affairs Sarah
Paterson said the announcement was an important step towards
a nationally consistent approach to managing fresh water.
It also gave communities the ''tools'' they needed to make
decisions about their waterways.
Regions across the country had been grappling with the
challenge of setting workable environmental limits.
Setting national water standards would provide greater
clarity on the science that needed to underpin environmental
limits, she said.
New Zealand Groundspread Fertiliser Association president
Stuart Barwood said the Government was to be congratulated
for ''bringing some common sense'' to the water debate.
''New Zealand Inc. must move forward as a team, not a
collection of disparate tribes.''
Dr Marc Schallenberg, a freshwater scientist at the
University of Otago, said the water quality limits were an
''adequate'' minimum level of guidance for what the water
quality of New Zealand's lakes and rivers should and could
He hoped the ministry would build on those limits by soon
adding more ecological indicators to the limits framework.
He was concerned the limits framework did not take a whole
catchment approach to managing nutrients in aquatic
''Viewed with a cynical eye, one could conclude that the
Government's focus on nitrate and ammonium toxicity, instead
of the ecosystem health effects of these pollutants [as well
as the lack of phosphorus limits for rivers], is a loophole
for dairying, which leaks large amounts of nitrogen from
cattle urine and fertilisers into surface waters and
groundwaters - a major cause of the deterioration of our
fresh waters,'' Dr Schallenberg said.