In late February, ministers Smith and Guy announced the next round of proposed water reforms for consultation. The 'Clean Water' rules will have significant implications for the primary sector.
The proposed package has five main elements:
1. A target of 90 per cent of rivers (identified in Appendix 2) and lakes (over 1500m of shoreline) being swimmable by 2040;
2. New regulations on stock exclusion from waterways;
3. Changes to the National Policy Statement - Freshwater Management;
4. Collation and provision of better information and maps; and
5. A call for applications for the Freshwater Clean-up Fund.
One of the most significant of the proposed changes is the removal of the requirement for all waterways to be wadeable. That's replaced with a requirement that 90 per cent of all waterways nationally within a set criteria be swimmable by 2040.
To determine whether a waterway is swimmable, a 'traffic light' approach has been introduced, which is based on the percentage of time a waterway is below an E.coli threshold. For a waterway to be swimmable it must not exceed the E.coli threshold of 540 E.coli per 100ml for more than 20 percent of the time.
Currently 72 per cent of identified waterways are specified as being swimmable. To meet the targets of 80 per cent by 2030 and 90 per cent by 2040, councils will between them determine how this will be achieved on a national basis. Federated Farmers is concerned that this may result in 'horse trading', with winners and losers resulting.
We agree that waterways valued for swimming should be swimmable during swimming season. A concern is the rivers identified within the Government's proposals relate to size, and not their appropriateness or value for swimming or other recreation.
In line with a 2014 election promise, Minister Smith is seeking to introduce far reaching regulations to exclude stock from waterways. The proposals, even for dairy farmers (particularly West Coast farmers), could have significant cost implications.
While the stock exclusion proposal is limited to cattle (beef and dairy), deer and pigs on flatter land initially, it will eventually apply to all land up to 15 degrees and to all land if break feeding.
The proposal sets out a timetable, with deadlines for when various stock types on various slopes of land must be excluded from specified waterways (ranging from July 1, 2017 to July 1, 2025).
Importantly, it is stock exclusion, not necessarily fencing, that is required. Also, where stock are driven across a waterway more than once a week, these crossings must be bridged or culverted by July 1, 2019.
While the package allows farmers to apply to council for an exemption, Federated Farmers is concerned that these stock exclusion proposals have not been costed out fully and there is a lack of clarity around how farmers determine the various slope thresholds.
There are also concerns with some of the definitions, in particular wetlands, and that it could capture necessary farm infrastructure such as stockwater dams.
The package also proposes many other changes to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FWM).
The NPS-FWM requires councils to either maintain or improve water quality and quantity. The proposal seeks to provide clarification that the maintenance or improvement of water is to be judged within a Freshwater Management Unit (FMU) rather than across a whole region.
NPS-FWM changes also seek to ensure regional councils consider the community's economic well-being when making water management decisions. Federated Farmers is advocating this must extend to considering the wider economic costs on the primary sector, not just the cost to ratepayers of upgrading municipal sewage treatment plants.
The proposal also seeks to make it compulsory for regional councils to firstly use the Macroinvertebrate Community Index (MCI) as the monitoring tool for determining whether a waterway is meeting the compulsory national bottom line of ecosystems health.
Secondly to set maximum concentrations of dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN) and dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) where a river is being managed for periphyton (slime).
The proposal also seeks to increase the prominence of the decision making framework called Te Mana o te Wai within the NPS-FWM. But it's unclear how this framework links with the decision making framework already contained within the NPS-FWM.
We welcome that applications are open to the $100m Freshwater Clean-up Fund but are concerned the minimum request for this round is for $200,000, which could rule out smaller, catchment-based initiatives. Federated Farmers is undertaking a detailed analysis of the proposals and will be seeking feedback from members to guide us.