Focus on swimmable rivers, exporting water

Cleaning up rivers is proving a hot topic for political parties. Photo: ODT
Cleaning up rivers is proving a hot topic for political parties. Photo: ODT
Clean rivers are a priority for politicians and election 2017 has put the pressure on the major parties to explain what they will do to provide swimmable rivers, reports Dene Mackenzie.

Again, just as in environmental policy, farmers are at the forefront of clean river policies. Commercial water bottlers will also face a tax on their products.

Farmers are objecting to  a tax on water.

Labour has promised to restore rivers and lakes to a "truly swimmable state" within  a generation. A generation is about 25 years.

National wants 90% of rivers and lakes being swimmable by 2040, two years earlier than Labour but only a 90% target.

Prime Minister Bill English said the Government implemented New Zealand’s first National Policy Statement on Freshwater, requiring regional councils to set limits on nutrients.

National regulations were developed requiring stock exclusion from waterways, achieved through 56,000km of new fencing.

Labour leader Jacinda Ardern said Labour would help farmers and other owners of waterways with fencing and riparian planting through its Ready For Work programme.Labour would place a royalty on the commercial consumption of water to assist with the  cost  of keeping water clean. Households and councils would not pay any water royalty, Ms Ardern said.

The latest figure on the irrigation water tax is 2c per 1000 litres, causing some farmers to question how they could continue to irrigate.

Ms Ardern said the royalty would be flexible to reflect the scarcity or abundance of water in different regions, the different quality of water and its use.

The royalty for bottled water would be levied per litre.

During leaders’ debates on television, accusations were made the tax would reopen Treaty of Waitangi claims already settled, something Labour has done nothing to clarify.

Mr English said National would work with regional councils and communities to deliver on the target of 90% of rivers and lakes swimmable by 2040.

It would implement practical regulations to ensure stock were excluded from waterways and improve the allocation of freshwater.

A system would be introduced to allocate nutrient discharges to ensure the system was fair and equitable for all New Zealanders, he said.

New Zealand First leader Winston Peters said his party agreed with  Labour’s policy on royalties on exported bottled water being paid back to the regions from whence it came.

"How could we not agree? After all, it was our policy long before Labour swiped it. But Labour water policy is two-fold. And it is the second part of their policy which causes stress and alarm."

Labour’s planned tax on those engaged in fruit and vegetable growing, vineyards, and other primary producers would have major implications around regional New Zealand.

Labour’s water tax figures ranged from $58.3 million to $500million, Mr Peters said.

However, despite serious uncertainty as to the rate of tax, the Labour leader was saying the rate would not be known until after the election.

"Only then will they sit down with those concerned and sort it out," he said.

"The problem with Labour’s policy is that no-one knows what it is."

The Greens take the hardest line on clean water and would put a levy on nitrate pollution from agriculture, starting with intensive dairying.

Revenue raised would fund a package of support measures farmers could use to reduce their impact on the environment, leader James Shaw said.

Farmers would be helped to move to more sustainable and profitable farming by extending the Sustainable Farming Fund with an extra $20 million every year.

A Transformational Farming Partnership Fund of about $70million a year would be established  and funding would be increased for the Landcare Trust to $16 million over three years.

Tree planting by farmers and landowners would be rewarded and the Greens would allow accelerated depreciation on dairy farm equipment.

Importantly, the Greens would put a moratorium on new dairy farm conversions, Mr Shaw said.

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