Freshwater Report 2020 - What Does it Mean for NZ?

Introduction 

The Ministry for the Environment and Statistics NZ have released their latest environmental report ‘Our Freshwater 2020’. These reports are completed annually and set out the areas of concern and provide evidence on why these areas of concern exist, and a basis for identifying improvements and measures to be implemented.

The report findings are not surprising and are closely aligned to the areas of concern identified in earlier environmental reports in regards to freshwater quality.

This article provides a summary of the Our Freshwater 2020 Report and discusses its role in light of Covid-19, and how it fits with the vast amount of work that has been completed in the freshwater space recently.

Freshwater Report Findings

Our Freshwater 2020 sets out the following four significant issues facing freshwater in New Zealand:

  • Issue 1: Our native freshwater species and ecosystems are under threat;
  • Issue 2: Water is polluted in urban, farming, and forestry areas;
  • Issue 3: Changing water flows affect our freshwater; and
  • Issue 4: Climate change is affecting freshwater in Aotearoa NZ.

These issues overlap and have cumulative effects on freshwater in New Zealand. The authors find that the way we live and use our land, along with the effects of climate change, is impacting our freshwater resource. It is made clear that is not one single land use that is causing this to occur but is the cumulative effect of all these activities that makes these issues significant.

The report concludes by discussing improvements that can be made to our environmental reporting system, which includes:

  • addressing the knowledge gaps that currently exist that need to be remedied to address these issues;
  • recognising the value of Te Ao Mori (Mori Worldwide view) in environmental reporting and stewardship; and
  • embracing future opportunities for improved reporting through a number of methods including new technologies and innovative approaches to environmental research.

Our Freshwater 2020 builds on earlier environmental reports and the work that a number of other advisory groups have completed which has helped formulate the draft national policy statement for Freshwater Management, Proposed National Environmental Standards for Freshwater and Draft Stock Exclusion Section 360 regulations, as well as the upcoming reforms to the Resource Management Act 1991.

Next Steps

It is clear that this Coalition Government is focused on the impacts of our activities on the environment, in particular freshwater, and managing that appropriately whilst enabling development. A balance that has long been the source of complaint under the Resource Management Act 1991.

In light of Covid-19 and the announcement of fast track legislation for significant “shovel ready” projects, it will be very interesting to see how the findings in this report will be addressed, when it appears the primary focus is on rebuilding our economy.

Importantly, the recently released cabinet paper for the Covid-19 Recovery (Fast Track Consenting) Bill elevates the importance of freshwater, as the proposed fast track process provides that an application for resource consent or designation under this legislation may only be declined in certain circumstances. This includes when “granting consent would be contrary to the objectives and policies relating to freshwater quantity or quality in any operative or proposed plan, or freshwater national direction, or any water conservation order.”

Whilst it is acknowledged rebuilding the economy is vitally important for New Zealand to recover from Covid-19, it is but one consideration under the Resource Management Act 1991 when considering a resource consent application.

On the other hand, the critical importance of freshwater to New Zealanders should not be undervalued. Freshwater provides for a number of activities that New Zealanders value as part of their everyday lives, such as recreational activities, a life supporting resource for fish species and as mahinga kai for Mãori.

It is heartening to see in the cabinet paper for the Covid-19 Recovery (Fast Track Consenting) Bill that it is intended that this proposed legislation will help deliver projects that enhance the environment or advance other green initiatives. This is an important inclusion to also focus efforts towards green projects to advance the work already completed in this area to boost our economy, not just via jobs, through our Covid-19 recovery.

It remains to be seen whether these will be significant restoration projects that go to the heart of addressing the fundamental issues with freshwater in New Zealand, or more quick fixes to satisfy the proposed legislation. Whichever the case, freshwater’s proposed recognition in the proposed fast track legislation can only be considered a positive step.

If you have any questions about the issues and documents raised in this article please get in touch with one of the Adderley Head team.

Disclaimer: This is a brief summary for information purposes only and is not legal advice.

Posted on Thursday 14th May, 2020 at 02:35 pm