Farmers welcome new water standards

Amy Adams proposed new national water standards fit for boating, but not swimming. Farmers welcomed the standards, but the Green Party said it would give farmers a 'licence to pollute.'

Federated Farmers spokesman Ian Mackenzie said farmers welcomed the proposed amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management released today, but the Green Party said that was because the proposed new national water standards would effectively give them "a licence to pollute".

The standards were part of a discussion document released by Environment Minister Amy Adams and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy which includes proposed "bottom lines" for the amount of nitrates, E-coli and other contaminants in lakes and rivers. Waterways meeting the minimum standard would be fit for boating and wading, but not for swimming.

Adams said, once agreed, the framework would reduce the arguments in council and in court over the science behind regional plans and resource consent, adding "although we might agree that clean water is important, there are many different views about what this actually means and on how we can achieve the water quality for the uses we want.

"There are also many different views on how much risk we are willing to tolerate, and what we are willing to sacrifice when we make choices about how we will use our water. These are very difficult conversations for communities to have. And we all have stories about how hopeless or frustrating they can be, as many end up with continual and costly debate in the Environment Court," she said.

Mackenzie agreed, saying it would "reduce much of the subjective emotion that has typified the discussion. He said the framework needed to be fleshed out, but the consultations were an "important steps towards a more open and honest discussion about water.”

Green Party water spokeswoman Eugenie Sage said the Government was giving up on making New Zealand's dirty rivers and lakes safe for swimming.

“This means that while some rivers in a region are improving, councils can let others degrade to a condition that is unsafe for swimming,” she said

“The supposed bottom lines for water quality proposed by the National Government have big gaps and amount to a licence to pollute. We desperately need effective regulation that prevents further degradation and improves the quality of our rivers and lakes. The Government’s proposed Objectives Framework won’t provide it.”

Labour Environment Spokeswoman Meka Whaitiri described the proposals as weak and a "skeleton without flesh."

'Include the critters'

The Environmental Defence Society said the proposals were a good start but needed strengthening.

“In particular, we are aware the Science Panels and the Reference Group recommended that macroinvertebrates (small living critters in freshwater systems) should be included – but they haven’t been. We think this can and should be fixed in the final version," Chairman Gary Taylor said.

“Overall, some of the other bottom-line standards appear weaker than expected and in many cases are considerably lower than current water quality. We will need to take scientific advice on what adjustments are required. We have to have standards that ensure that no further deterioration in freshwater quality occurs and that we are on an overall improvement pathway especially in lowland streams and rivers," Taylor said.

“Overall, New Zealand’s freshwater should be swimmable and fishable as a minimum," he said.

'Include the insects'

Fish and Game said it was concerned the standards did not mention aquatic insects and the exceptions regime allowed regional councils to decide not to adhere to the standards.

“But perhaps of greatest concern is the absence of ‘key indicators’. We know that some water qualities don’t yet have suitable numerical standards, but regard tight narrative definition of such standards as essential to ensure that regional councils are required to clean up poor water quality, even if this takes a long time. We have to get started to reach improvement," said Resource Management Coordinator Neil Deans .