The government’s Action for Healthy Waterways discussion document generated 17,500 submissions. Responses were generally supportive of the government’s overarching goals to improve freshwater quality in New Zealand by preventing further degradation, reversing past damage and addressing water allocation issues. Those submissions published to date raise issues over aspects of fairness, the extent of expected economic and societal impacts and the need for meaningful consultation.
The proposals in the discussion document are based on the overarching principle of Te Mana o te Wai, identifying a hierarchy of obligations that places the health and mauri of water above essential human needs. Immediate steps are proposed to halt wetland losses and prevent agricultural and forestry practices that impact on water quality. The proposals also recognise that it is not only humans who rely on healthy freshwater. Plants, fish, birds, insects and invertebrates are all essential components for ecosystem health and the proposals include specific recommendations on the use of a range of additional metrics and measurements to better support ecosystem health and functioning.
The 17,500 submissions will demonstrate the importance placed on clean water and healthy ecosystems and also highlight differing priorities across New Zealand. An independent advisory panel, appointed by Environment Minister David Parker, will review all submissions and provide recommendations to ministers. The Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries will also provide feedback received from public meetings. Submissions will be made public on the Ministry for the Environment’s website.
Locally, change will be determined through regional planning and as a result of close collaboration with communities. There is a lot of good work already being undertaken by landowners and communities across the Upper Clutha catchment, including tree planting, fencing, pest control and planning for integrated catchment management.
Water management is complex and it will inevitably take time for legislative changes to be implemented and for the impact of those changes to be measurable. While we welcome the prospect of stronger legislation, the Wānaka Water Project is already working alongside Otago Regional Council and Queenstown Lakes District Council to ensure that the Upper Clutha’s Integrated Catchment Management Plan is embedded in council policy and plans. This plan will include a range of specific recommendations, including a comprehensive process to facilitate evidence-based management of Lake Wānaka, Lake Hāwea and their catchment areas.
For more information about the Wānaka Water Project visit www.uppercluthalakestrust.org.