In recent years there has been substantial legislative change around water. Rules around wetlands, drinking water, stock exclusion and nutrient allocations have created uncertainty and stress for farmers and communities who rely on their supply for drinking, cleaning and growing. Rural communities are anxious and confused at the pace of all this change.
Federated Farmers has consulted on a substantial amount of legislation around water and we, like you, are confused with the amount of information being thrown out. So, here’s a summary of where things are at, and our position so far. (Find our full submissions on the Federated Farmers’ website).
Three Waters reform
What: The Government is setting up four new ‘mega’ Water Services Entities (WSEs) that will operate the three waters (drinking water, stormwater, sewerage) infrastructure currently owned and operated by district and city councils. This mainly affects urban areas connected to municipal supplies and their ratepayers but some rural water supplies will be affected.
When: Submissions closed on the Water Services Entities Bill last month. Government wants the Bill passed so the Water Services Entities can be established and be operating by mid-2024.
What Feds thinks: Click here. Most farmers are either self-suppliers or their water is supplied by private water schemes. However, there are a number of community ‘mixed use’ rural water supplies (i.e., human drinking water and water for livestock or irrigation) which are owned or operated by local authorities. They will be affected by the move to WSEs.
National Policy Statement – Freshwater Management
What: The NPS-FM sets national bottom lines for water quality and quantity, with 26 water attributes that Regional Councils have to set targets for and achieve. It makes Te Mana O Te Wai the fundamental concept for freshwater management and will regulate activities like land use and diffuse discharges (like animal grazing), water takes, stock exclusion from waterways, dairy effluent management, earthworks that create sediment, and protection of wetlands.
When: In force from August 2020. Councils will consult over the next 2 years to design and implement new freshwater plans for the regions.
What Feds thinks: Feds is concerned around the speed of change and the risk this poses to making and implementing effective, workable and practical rules and objectives for each catchment. We agree improving the health of waterways is needed but the size and the nature of freshwater quality challenges has been overstated and the proposed NPS solution is disproportionate to the problem. Feds disagrees with the one-size fits all rules, short consultation timeframes, inadequate transitioning periods, and the costly and often unjustified impacts that will follow the rules. It’s a colossal ask for all Regional Councils to rewrite and implement new freshwater plans prior to 2025, to bring their regulations into line with the NPS targets. In some cases, even recent regional plans will have to be redone, starting the whole RMA circus all over again.
National Environmental Standard for Freshwater
What: The NES-F is a set of rules for the entire country that effectively sets minimum standards for activities to protect freshwater. The standards regulate and protect wetlands and fish passage, have minimum requirements for winter fodder crop grazing and feedlots, and put caps on synthetic fertiliser, livestock intensification and land use change.
When: In force from September 2020.
What Feds thinks: The NES-F is another example where one rule does not fit all, as demonstrated in Southland with the winter grazing standard that required resowing by 1st October. We prefer localised rule-making that takes into account the different conditions and circumstances of each region.
- The nitrogen cap of 190 kg per hectare per year too restrictive.
- Complex and severely restricting rules on wetlands along with significant confusion on “what is a wetland?”
- Restricting land use change is a decision that should be made at a localised level based on science and evidence.
- Slope rules for winter grazing practices are confusing and not practical.
- Overly complicated rules for culverts.
National Environmental Standard for sources of human drinking water
What: The NES-DW is intended to give extra protection for all drinking water sources at the headworks of the take. It controls activities the Govt thinks are high risk to drinking water through needing resource consent and even prohibits some activities, not just around headworks but many kilometres upstream.
When: Submissions closed March 2022; awaiting further updates.
What Feds thinks: More unnecessary ‘one size fits all’ restrictions that will have a chilling effect on rural neighbours sharing water. Farmers know their farm better than anyone and know what is required to keep their drinking water safe. Risks to drinking water are massively overstated and already well managed by existing regional council rules. Little hard detail available, but the consultation suggested placing heavy restrictions on agrichemical application and earthworks around water.
Water Services Act & Drinking Water Supplier Regulations
What: The Water Services Act 2021 (WSA) regulates drinking water and provides a newly established regulator with the power to develop rules and compliance for even very small drinking water supply arrangements. Enactment of the WSA was government’s response to the Havelock North drinking water contamination event, where an insecure council bore was contaminated by stormwater and up to 5,500 residents became ill. It considerably toughens the regime for small suppliers.
Small suppliers will have significant new duties, including registration; complying with quality standards; developing a Water Safety Plan (depending on the compliance pathway chosen by the supplier), maintaining records of supply, monitoring and testing; notifying Taumata Arowai and local authorities of any risk or hazard to the drinking water; and setting up a complaints process for those supplied.
Who: Previously drinking water regulation was managed by the Ministry of Health under the Heath Act 1956, but under Government direction will now be run by Taumata Arowai. If you own or operate a water supply (that you know, or ought reasonably to know) is being used as drinking water by people outside of your own home, you are a drinking water supplier and will have responsibilities under the WSA.
When: Drinking water suppliers that are currently not registered with the Ministry of Health have until 15 November 2025 to register. For these supplies Taumata Arowai’s intention is that they must fully comply with the new requirements by November 2028.
What Feds thinks: We wanted private supplies to fewer than 50 people exempted in the primary legislation for many reasons. Small private suppliers do not have the resources for extensive compliance and/or modification to their systems. Run largely by volunteers, with many schemes being mixed farm and household water use, new compliance and treatment regimes may result in suppliers disconnecting and going to individual rainwater tanks to avoid yet more regulation. Feds is making good progress through submissions and engagement in getting the regulations simplified for small suppliers.