Civil war of iwi and greenies versus farmers was averted at a spirited Whanganui consultation hui on fresh water.

Officials from the environment and primary industries ministries were in town on Friday to consult on the latest additions to national water policy. The meeting was one of 20 nationally.

About 50 people crammed into a room at Whanganui's Kingsgate Hotel for a lively hui.

Tanea Tangaroa and others complained of Government action, while farmer Tim Matthews defended hill country land use, Whanganui councillor Martin Visser bemoaned fracking and Adrian Te Patu gave a Sam Hunt impression with impromptu poem.


Someone did mention civil war over water policy, but it didn't happen.

"I think we're all being quite generous with each other," Mr Te Patu said in summing up.

The Environment Ministry's Jane Frances began by talking about additions to fresh water policy. The first national policy statement came out in 2011, and national bottom lines were added in 2014. Since 2009, $150 million has been spent on clean-ups, and a further $100 million is proposed over the next 10 years.

The additions include more say for Maori, allowing local people to set local standards, monitoring water insects as a measure of quality, more fencing of waterways and asking councils to consider the efficiency of water use when granting consents.

Whanganui kayaker Chris Cresswell opened the many questions by producing a jar of murky Whanganui River water and asking whether the changes would make any difference.

Rachel Rose said the meeting was not well publicised and should have been at a better time.

Nancy Tuaine said Whanganui iwi had money to improve river health in their treaty settlement, but that shouldn't have been necessary.

The main pollutant in the Whanganui is sediment off farmed hill country, and she asked whether councils would have the resources to deal with it.

"If our rivers are not well, neither are our people."

Ms Tangaroa said fresh water in her Kokohuia suburb was in a bad state.

"We have hardly any freshwater fisheries at all now. There was no protection on them from the beginning."

Mr Visser asked whether rules limiting nitrates were strong enough, and Ms Frances said local people could decide on a higher standard than the national bottom line.

Ms Rose and John Milnes remembered being able to drink from local streams and recreationalist Esther Williams said people falling out of canoes on the Whanganui were cautioned to keep their mouths closed.

Ms Rose asked people to put their hands up if they wanted rivers with water good enough for swimming - and many did.

The present national standard is for water good enough for wading and boating.

Many said $100 million over 10 years would not be enough to improve water quality, especially when Government was spending to increase irrigation and intensify farming at the same time.

"It's a narrow, blinkered, compartmentalist focus that talks about waterways as a resource to use to make money," Ms Rose said.

Federated Farmers provincial president Brian Doughty got applause when he said 60 per cent to 65 per cent of water pollution came from farming.

"We do need to take responsibility."

But Federated Farmers Wanganui sheep and beef chairman Tim Matthews said much of the district's wealth came from farming hill country.

"Yes, we all want good water - but it comes at a cost. We can chase all the farmers off the land and get it revegetated, but Whanganui will look like Minginui and it will not be much bigger. Look at the big picture."

Ms Frances said the region clearly had people passionate about water, and they should lobby local councils and work together because the ministry couldn't do everything.

Facilitator Sir Wira Gardiner asked Ms Tangaroa to give the final words, a whakatauki (proverb).

"The water comes first, then the baby and then the whenua (land/afterbirth)."