Farmers and growers are not being unfairly penalised by the Three Waters proposals, Irrigation NZ chief executive Vanessa Winning says.
Instead, they might be experiencing a feeling of "fight or flight" due to the amount of policy changes affecting the rural sector lately, Winning told The Country's Jamie Mackay.
The Government's Three Waters restructuring plans will affect drinking water, wastewater and stormwater infrastructure.
It is proposed to move the ownership and management of water infrastructure from 67 local councils and into the hands of four water services agencies, split regionally.
Rural and small suppliers will now have three years from the enactment of the Water Services Bill to conduct assessment and put in place mitigation measures to ensure safe drinking water, Winning said.
"This isn't going to be easy...but they've given us an extra three years...to work out - what can we do, how will it work and what will the implementation components be."
The changes could be as easy as people putting a UV filter on their water, or adding chlorine before it "hits the taps," Winning said.
Irrigation NZ also wanted to see existing frameworks, such as the Integrated Farm Plan or Farm Environment Plan, used as an approach for water registering and mitigation, Winning said in a statement.
This meant certified farm consultants would be authorised to sign this off after appropriate training, reducing the cost and time burden on farmers of additional compliance mechanisms, Winning said in a statement.
One problem was no one knew what the changes would be, which Winning believed was contributing to "the panic" in rural communities.
The intent of the Three Waters reform was to ensure rural communities had access to safe drinking water.
This was especially important after the Havelock North campylobacter crisis in 2016 where four people died, Winning said.
"What they're trying to achieve is clean drinking water for everybody and I don't know a single farmer who wouldn't want to make sure that the water that they're supplying...[is] healthy."
Irrigation NZ published its submission on the Water Services Bill to the Health Select Committee in March 2021.
The submission sought a better outcome for small drinking water users in rural areas, while still delivering on the intent of the Bill.
Winning said in a statement that the submission was well received by the Health Select Committee.
"In their report back they have acknowledged the need for a more workable approach for our rural suppliers."
For irrigation schemes supplying water in bulk, or for council distribution, Irrigation NZ said it would work with Taumata Arowai on how to get practical access to required water, and who then was considered the "supplier".
Treating water at source when its primary use was for application on plants and soils was impractical and potentially damaging to those plants, so workable solutions prior to being used as drinking supply would need further consideration to ensure supplementary use can continue, Winning said.
"Everyone wants safe drinking water, and our smaller suppliers and rural communities are most vulnerable to being exposed to unsafe water supply."