New Zealand Freshwater Management: Changing Policy for a Changing World

Monday, 15 December 2014
Helen L. Rouse, NIWA National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research, Wellington, New Zealand and Ned Norton, Ned Norton Consulting Ltd, Christchurch, New Zealand
Fresh water is essential to New Zealand’s economic, environmental, cultural and social well-being. In line with global trends, New Zealand’s freshwater resources are under pressure from increased abstraction and changes in land-use which contribute contaminants to our freshwater systems. Recent central government policy reform introduces greater national direction and guidance, to bring about a step-change in freshwater management. An existing national policy for freshwater management introduced in 2011 requires regional authorities to produce freshwater management plans containing clear freshwater objectives (measurable statements about the desired environmental state for water bodies) and associated limits to resource use (such as environmental flows and quantity allocation limits, and loads of contaminants to be discharged). These plans must integrate water quantity and quality management, consider climate change, and incorporate tangata whenua (New Zealand māori) roles and interests. In recent (2014) national policy amendments, the regional authorities are also required to implement national ‘bottom-line’ standards for certain attributes of the system to be managed; undertake accounting for all water takes and all sources of contaminants; and to develop and implement their plans in a collaborative way with communities. This rapid change in national policy has necessitated a new way of working for authorities tasked with implementation; many obstacles lie in their path. The scientific methods required to help set water quantity limits are well established, but water quality methods are less so. Collaborative processes have well documented benefits but also raise many challenges, particularly for the communication of complex and often uncertain scientific information. This paper provides background on the national policy changes and offers some early lessons learned by the regional authorities implementing collaborative freshwater management in New Zealand.