Water forum's work done

By Laurel Stowell


After 18 months' intensive involvement with the Land and Water Forum, Wanganui's Kirsten Bryant will now wait and see what Government and regional councils make of its recommendations.

The forum (LawF) released its third and final report on November 15.

It was started in 2009, to look at the vexed question of freshwater management and try out a collaborative process developed in Scandinavian countries.

Freshwater management in New Zealand has two sets of issues - one about how much water can be taken for irrigation before rivers are degraded, and another about how much eroded soil, fertiliser run-off, city stormwater and treated sewage can be added to them while maintaining their health.

Mrs Bryant, representing sheep and beef farmers, became one of the forum's 62 members in March 2011. She was one of just two active farmers on the forum. The other was from Canterbury, where irrigation is a big issue, and the forum also had scientists, Maori and representatives from bodies like Fonterra and Fish & Game.

"I'm glad I have been there for farmers, because it's essential that people making policy understand a farming perspective," she said.

For a while former Whanganui River Maori Trust Board manager Nancy Tuaine was also on the forum, and made a "massive contribution".

The forum's first report said New Zealand needed a better process for managing freshwater and made recommendations for that. One of these has been taken up with Government's National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management, which came into effect on July 1 last year.

Its second report recommended national limits on water take for irrigation and on additions to water from various sources of pollution. These are yet to be set by Government.

The third report recommended methods for keeping within those limits while maintaining productivity. It said catchments should decide for themselves on limits to take and pollution, with Government's yet-to-be-set limits as a minimum, because each catchment was different from its neighbour.

"The catchments can then decide whether they want to be at or above those bottom lines.

"For some people, and particularly sensitive catchments with huge development pressure and certain types of soil, there will be some pain, I would expect."

The collaborative approach would make for better water quality, and residents would be happier because they would feel involved.

Regional councils currently manage catchments. At least one already does that in collaboration with residents, while others don't. If Government decides to make collaborative catchment management a policy then all regional councils will have to implement it, Mrs Bryant said.

Being on the forum could be intensive, she said.

At some stages she was going to weekly meetings. She's glad that's over, but said it had left her 100 per cent in favour of the collaborative approach.

And she had learned a lot.

"Especially about people, and how actually we all want the same thing, which is very cool."

The LawF recommendations have been welcomed by Fonterra, Horticulture New Zealand and Federated Farmers. The Environmental Defence Society and Fish & Game are generally favourable but would like to see more concrete objectives for "who is going to be doing what, by when, to improve water quality."

The Green Party said the recommendations lacked set limits, and also lacked charges for people taking water.

The Te Wai Maori Trust endorsed the LawF recommendation to resolve iwi rights and interests in freshwater.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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