Government announces Action for Healthy Waterways

Friday 29 May 2020

The government has announced a series of provisions designed to restore and protect the health of New Zealand's waterways. The provisions—including rules, objectives and policies—are collected under the title “Action for Healthy Waterways”, part of the Ministry for the Environment’s Essential Freshwater work programme.

The provisions include a new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPSFM), new National Environmental Standards (NES) and section 360 RMA regulations.

The NES contains rules which will form part of ORC’s Regional Plan: Water. ORC is required to give effect to the NPSFM through the review of our existing Water Plan and through the development of the upcoming Land and Water Regional Plan, and our Freshwater Management Unit provisions.

The government consulted on these changes last year, receiving over 17,000 submissions which have informed the final provisions. You can read ORC’s submission on the proposals here.

Part of the policy announcement included $700m in funding to help councils and communities make the necessary changes.


What’s in the provisions?

The provisions include a range of new requirements for councils, developers, farmers and communities, targeted at reversing the course of ecosystem degradation and restoring healthy waterways in one generation.

Some of the new requirements, to be implemented through regional plans and National Environmental Standards, include:

  • Exclusion of stock from waterways wider than one metre.
    • Initially, this will include exclusion of dairy cattle and pigs by 2023, but will also apply to beef cattle and deer and require exclusion from Regionally Significant Wetlands within five years.
  • Wetlands protection.
    • Maintaining existing structures will be provided for, but other activities with more than minor effect will not be allowed on wetlands or will require consent.
  • More controls on intensive winter grazing. This includes permitted activity standards and land use consent requirements.
  • Interim controls on land use intensification. This includes permitted activity standards and land use consent requirements.
  • A new cap on the use of synthetic Nitrogen of 190kg per hectare per year.
  • Three metre grazing setback from waterways within five years.

The new policies also include a clearer definition of the concept and framework of Te Mana o te Wai,  a new compulsory value for mahinga kai in the NPSFM to provide greater recognition of Maori values, and new monitoring requirements that more than double the number of attributes for freshwater ecosystem health that need to be monitored.


What does it mean for Otago and the ORC?

ORC submitted in support of the overall direction and intent of these plans to improve water quality and halt ecosystem degradation when they were presented for consultation in September last year.

We know there is a lot of work to be done, both here in Otago and in other parts of New Zealand, to reverse the course of freshwater health.

We also noted in our submission on the proposals that all of this work would come at great cost to the local authorities and communities implementing the necessary changes in very rapid timeframes.

The final NPSFM framework has extended the deadline for councils to notify compliant plans by a year from what was proposed (to 2024). That gives councils and communities more breathing room to develop their plans, however ORC has already agreed with Minister Parker to a work programme that includes notification of a new Land and Water Regional Plan by 2023.

We will need to work through what this means for our work programme with the Ministry for the Environment, and we’ll keep the community informed if there are any changes.

In the first half of 2020, through the Water Permits plan change (Plan Change 7 to the Water Plan), and the Water Quality plan changes (Plan Change 8 to the Water Plan and Plan Change 1 to the Waste Plan), ORC has had an opportunity to get ahead of the curve on some of the new requirements around stock exclusion, fencing, and land use intensification.

These plan changes have been called in by the Minister for the Environment, and will be notified by the Environmental Protection Authority. When that happens, we will have an opportunity to align our proposed rules with the direction that Action for Healthy Waterways has taken.


Find out more

You can read more about the Action for Healthy Waterways policies and support funding here.

The Ministry for the Environment have helpfully developed a series of documents on what the policies will mean for different groups: