IrrigationNZ supports the new Essential Freshwater strategy, but says further certainty on water policy is critical to ensure farmers continue to invest in on-farm environmental improvements to achieve water quality targets.
Government Ministers David Parker and Damian O’Connor announced the new Essential Freshwater strategy in early-October, with the plan aiming to have new rules in place by 2020 to stop degradation of waterways and to achieve noticeable improvements in freshwater quality within five years.
IrrigationNZ chief executive Andrew Curtis says farmers need certainty around what rules will be in place today, and in 10 or 20 years’ time.
“We urgently need a framework which enables timely decision-making,” says Andrew. “It will also be important for the Government to engage with primary sector organisations to work through the impact of policy changes ‘on the ground’ to ensure changes are achievable and able to be implemented on farms.”
Andrew says IrrigationNZ supports the direction of the new strategy including the focus on at-risk catchments and the Government’s plans to carry out consultation with advisory groups around nutrient allocation options.
However, changes in policy on nutrient allocation and water takes will have a significant impact on farmers and growers – so IrrigationNZ would like to see the Government narrow down the areas of focus further and clarify how the different advisory groups will work together.
“It was positive to note in the announcement recognition of the importance of Farm Environmental Plans and support for these being adopted nationwide,” says Andrew. “FEPs are contributing to improvements in water quality seen in the recent LAWA data.”
Andrew says the Government’s target to achieve improvements in water quality by 2023 “is ambitious but can be achievable by building on the environmental improvement work already underway through FEPs and community decision making models in place in regions such as Canterbury”.
“Irrigation schemes hold the biggest consents in the primary sector and farmers connected to the larger schemes all have FEPs. The schemes also carry out their own monitoring and education of farmers and they will continue to play a key role in leading changes on the ground.”
Andrew says it’s good to see the Government’s new strategy acknowledging environmentally responsible water storage and distribution, managed aquifer recharge, and technology will all be considered to resolve water allocation issues.” These are all options that are being used internationally.”
Further information on the Essential Freshwater work programme is at: www.mfe.govt.nz/fresh-water/what-government-doing/freshwater-work-programme
The plan includes a focus on improving water quality in at-risk catchments, adopting a new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and a new National Environmental Standard for Freshwater Management by 2020, and amendments to the Resource Management Act to review consents in order to more quickly implement water quality and quantity limits.
New advisory groups have also been established including a Kahui Wai Maori, the Science and Technical Advisory Group, and the Freshwater Leaders Group.