The Land and Water Forum wants water use rights "easily
transferable between users, to allow it to move to its
highest-valued use". So "barriers to transfer and trading"
should be removed.
This is the major finding in the forum's third report. It
stops short of recommending a resource rental -- Federated
Farmers blocked that. But, if its recommendations are
adopted, it would set up a regime that could be adapted (for
example, by a Labour-Green government) to include resource
How far the present government will go down the forum's track
is not known. The report is to be launched by Primary
Industries Minister David Carter at 5.30pm today.
In its second report the forum recommended limits be set for
all waterbodies. This should be done, it said, through a
"collaborative" mechanism, similar to the way the forum
itself, with its 58 interest group members, has operated.
The third report sets out ways to allocate water use rights
within those limits.
It states five principles: water is "a common pool resource",
so should meet community needs; there is a "basic human
right" to water for drinking and sanitation; availability and
use vary across the country; commercial investments based on
water are "strategically significant for long-term economic
welfare" and iwi rights have to be resolved and provided for
(by negotiation between the Crown and iwi).
For this there need to be catchment-based allocation regimes
which protect the limits, minimise transaction costs and give
users more certainty.
The model the forum proposes achieves that by "setting a
scarcity threshold" and "clarifying and firming access
rights"; "enabling more efficient transfer of allocations
between users"; providing "avenues for new users to enter the
water economy" and protecting users' existing investments but
One big shift would be from an absolute right to take water
up to an allocated amount, as under current consents, to an
adjustable take when a catchment is under pressure: "All
users bear the risk of change in the availability from the
allocable quantum in accordance with the reliability
specified in their consents and according to rules in the
plan in relation to dry years unless it is agreed otherwise
in a plan."
Existing unauthorised takes would have to come under the new
allocation regime but must be "treated fairly" in the
transition, though not on the same basis as authorised takes.
The proposed model shifts the management of impacts of water
use from the consents to the community-collaborative plans.
These plans would need to consider "activities other than
water takes that nevertheless affect catchment flows" -- one
such activity is hydro-electric generation. Generators also
opposed resource consents.
Shifting the focus from consents to plans would require
changing consent conditions. This can be done under a
"statutory review process" which "already exists" and should
be "as soon as practicable".
To get consistency across the country in this process and in
setting thresholds, the government should give regional
councils a national direction.
The forum says that when a scarcity threshold is reached all
existing permitted water takes should be given a consent and
any applications to take water should be in accordance with
the regional plan.
The new consents should not be tied to a specific land use
activity, so that they can be transferred readily: "Consents
should have standard core elements that are designed to
enable transfer with minimal transaction costs and regulator
involvement. All consents granted by regional councils should
conform to requirements in a national instrument."
Investor certainty is a factor in the proposals. Some
regional councils have been granting consents for short
timeframes because under existing law it is easier to alter
conditions when a consent expires than during its time.
So the forum says consents should not be for 20 to 35 years
and, "where infrastructure has been provided for through a
collaborative planning process involving communities and iwi,
there is a case for consents to run long than 35 years". But
consents should be alterable during their lifetime "within
accepted and pre-agreed parameters".
- Colin James