The biggest problem the country has in terms of water management is not technical, it's about how to overcome the divisions that have developed among us, says Ecological Foundation executive director Guy Salmon.
Mr Salmon was a keynote speaker at day two of the water symposium held in Havelock North, and said there were five main building blocks that could form the basis of reaching solutions to the environmental concerns around fresh water.
● Efficiency is a value worth pursuing from a business, environmental and community perspective
● Achieving ecologically healthy and swimmable fresh waters over time needs to be generally supported (and if farmers are engaged with in the right way these ecological goals should be able to be achieved)
● Iwi and hapu have rights and interests in fresh water and should be accommodated as long as it is fair to everyone else as well
● The process of change is best advanced by a system which promotes collaboration, accountability, flexibility and innovation (to ensure water is not sewn up just by those people doing things the old way)
● Address conflicting values in regards to water through a two-step process: Protect the water body's own values first, then allocate use permits and ownership second.
He suggested that the concept of trading water was not one to be dismissed, and that it had the potential to restore water levels in the rivers, and lead to more parity.
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It would require a number and diversity of traders, universal metering and a trading registry, limits from the outset for water quantity and quality, and defined rules incorporating issues such as the downstream effects, stream depletion, and the ability to cope with flow variability.
He said trading was about balancing certainty with control - water take permits would need expiry dates and rules in place so permits could be auctioned off, and the market would need safeguards against dominant players, as well as rules around foreign ownership.
To date the permit system was resulting in large amounts of public money going to private landowners.
"It's a selective transfer of wealth to people who are already wealthy - charging for water would make it fairer."
To get anywhere in addressing the issues, the key was to work together, he said.
"Recently we have gone into a polarised phase at a national level - people are critical of farmers and farmers are critical of environmentalists.
"It's not a good trend and it's getting in the way of listening to each other and working on solutions."