Environment Commissioner warns water quality is “not out of the woods yet”

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright, has released two reports on water quality, calling for further steps to safeguard the quality of New Zealand’s fresh water.

She gives credit to the Government for investing heavily in developing policy to improve the management of fresh water, describing the 2014 National Policy Statement as “a major step forward”.

Some regional councils had begun to act and there was “a real sense of momentum.”

 “But we are not out of the woods yet. Some lakes and streams are below bottom lines and many others are not far above them. And in many places, water quality continues to decline.”

Dr Wright said ongoing conversions of land to dairy farming was resulting in increases in nutrient pollution of waterways.

She recommended that regional councils prioritise the protection of vulnerable water bodies and catchments.

The Commissioner’s report on the Government’s 2014 National Policy Statement for managing fresh water is available here. Click here to view a set of frequently asked questions.

The update of her 2013 report Water quality in New Zealand: Land use and nutrient pollution is available here.

These are among the responses to the reports:

Environment Canterbury

The reports are a useful contribution to the national discussion around freshwater in New Zealand, said David Caygill, Environment Canterbury’s Commissioner with particular responsibility for water.

“While the first report – Managing Water Quality – is addressed more at the Government’s National Policy Statement for Freshwater a number of the recommendations align with what’s already happening in Canterbury.

“As the report acknowledges, Environment Canterbury and a number of other regional councils were already working on protecting at risk water bodies and catchments when the NPS was put in place.

“In Canterbury this work started in 2012 when the Land and Water Regional Plan was introduced, which for the first time set limits on nutrients including the discharge of nitrates.

“But even before then the Canterbury Water Management Strategy – which was agreed in 2009 – included setting and managing catchment nutrient limits as one of the 10 target areas.

“We are now strengthening how we set and manage nutrient limits – based on farmer good management practices and the needs of particular catchments.”

Federated Farmers

Ian MacKenzie, Federated Farmers Environment Spokesperson, said:

“We agree with the Commissioner’s recommendation for a more strategic approach in prioritising the more lnerable catchments. To date some councils have spread their efforts too far and thin when they needed to prioritise and make some real progress on the ones that are under the most pressure.

“While the NPS has a lot of uncertainty and needs some clarification it has been a major leap forward for managing water quality in New Zealand. It has put a framework and set a direction for how we are to proceed, all it needs is some tightening in some areas so it puts us all in the same boat. We are less comfortable with Jan Wrights’ recommendation around the exceptions policy because it appears to be giving urban authorities and urban infrastructure the ability to opt out of the NPS.

“The overarching theme of this report is that we need to focus on the bigger picture and clearly define what that is. Everything we do needs to be about the end game values that we set under the NPS.”


Landcorp was reported to be sticking to its programme of converting more Waikato forestry land to dairying.

According to NZ Farmer:

Landcorp chief executive Steve Carden said he was “well aware” of the issues raised by the Commissioner, Dr Jan Wright, and the concerns about water quality.

He said the Central Plateau conversion represented 1.5 per cent of all the cows in the Waikato region. Landcorp did not own the Wairakei Estate land but was managing it.

“In all its conversions, in any part of the country, Landcorp has been extremely careful to ensure the conversions are environmentally appropriate as well as financially viable,” Carden said.

The company was guided by democratically-elected regional council environmental standards.

“All our dairy farms meet the requirements of the Sustainable Dairying Water Accord and water and nutrient limits managed by regional councils,” Carden said.

“Even if we are farming within the limits, we still want to do better. For a long while we have been working on solutions that involve alternative land uses suitable for the Central Plateau, for example, our recently launched sheep milk business.

“We are also identifying new technologies and system changes that will further reduce the environmental footprint of these farms, for example, nitrogen inhibiting technologies or fewer cows per hectare of land,” Carden said in a statement.


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