What does the Clean Water Package mean for farmers?

April 13 2017

What does the Clean Water Package mean for farmers?

The recently announced Clean Water Package has caused considerable controversy, mostly in regard to the proposed target to have 90% of all rivers and lakes ‘swimmable’ by 2040. As cattle and sheep have been identified as major contributors to the level of E.coli in waterways, does this mean you’ll have to build fences? Here’s what we know about this murky topic.

Opening the flood gates

The announcement of the Clean Water Package was met with loud and forceful criticism from The Green Party and Labour Party. The hot topic is the E.coli guidelines for swimmable rivers, which allows up to 540 E.coli per 100mls, doubling the E.coli levels allowed to be present in swimmable water.

Adding complication to the matter, Forest and Bird advised Dr Nick Smith, the Minister for the Environment, and Nathan Guy, the Minister for Primary Industries, that it was withdrawing from the Land and Water Forum.

The Land and Water Forum brings stakeholders in fresh water and land management together, including industry groups, electricity generators, environmental and recreational bodies, iwi, scientists and other organisations.

The forum aims to develop a common direction for fresh water management and provide advice to the government on this issue. Currently, there are 67 non-government participants, and 13 central and local government partners that include local authorities and various government departments.

The withdrawal of Forest and Bird changes the forum’s dynamic. Forest and Bird is a very influential pressure group in this arena. Notably, it has taken legal action in relation to the proposed Ruataniwha Dam, a matter still in litigation.

The issue of fresh water standards for waterways is highly political. For the foreseeable future,  we’ll have to wait for more clarity on the matter.

What’s the impact for farmers?

Will your position be different from the one we outlined in our article about the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill 2015? When or if enacted, this Bill will give the government power to prescribe regulations to fence waterways.

Put simply, the release of the Clean Water Package doesn’t change the position of farmers. Any attempt to control levels of E.coli will involve keeping sheep and cattle as far away as possible from waterways, although the government’s tinkering with the definition of ‘swimmable’ will have little effect on this at all.

However, farmers cannot expect any relaxation in the fencing proposals that are currently on the table. The issues raised by the Clean Water Package demonstrate this is a hot political topic, involving well-funded and high-powered pressure groups. As this is an election year, we can be sure it’ll stir up some mud.

So who pays for the fencing?

As an interesting aside, shortly after the Clean Water Package was announced, the Environmental Defence Society released a report entitled ‘Last Line of Defence: Compliance, monitoring and enforcement of New Zealand’s environmental law.’

Two aspects the report examines are resourcing and the technical capacity for local authorities’ to achieve compliance. The report notes that regional authorities have been demonstrating increasing technical capacity for their compliance function, but there’s still a concern the political influence on decision-making will include the allocation of resources.

If so, this will impose a considerable burden upon our regional and unitary authorities for monitoring compliance with the fencing of rivers and streams.

Our rural lawyers will continue to monitor the Clean Water Package debate and keep you up to date.

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