Gareth Morgan and Geoff Simmons: Govt policy too weak to maintain waterways

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The Government says communities decide which waterways they wish to improve and which to degrade. Photo / Graeme Hughes
The Government says communities decide which waterways they wish to improve and which to degrade. Photo / Graeme Hughes

The Morgan Foundation recently reviewed the Government's fresh water policy with a panel of 16 eminent experts. Our objective was to see if the policies announced would actually deliver the goal the Government declared it wants to meet. They won't.

Overall, the Government argues that their policy will "protect and improve the water quality that we all care so much about".

In our view the policies announced will not be enough to constrain, let alone halt, degradation of waterways until they hit the rather lax bottom lines the Government has stipulated.

This conclusion is based on the science from the 16 eminent experts, most of whom were involved in the Government's own policy development process.

Instead, the sponsor of any new development (such as a dairy conversion) that could reduce the quality of a waterway should have to demonstrate that it will either:

*Not degrade the waterway;
*Offset any degradation by making improvements elsewhere;
*Provide an economic benefit to the community worth the degradation of the river.

In summary, the issue is one of process.

The Government says communities decide which waterways they wish to improve and which to degrade so long as "over the region" quality is maintained or improved. They can't degrade below wadeability.

We say every waterway should be maintained or improved, with swimability as the aspiration and developers present the case to degrade for community approval.

Gareth Morgan and Geoff Simmons are from the Morgan Foundation.

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