The challenge of restoring waterways in partnership with hapu, iwi, councils and farmers will take many decades but can be done through sustainable practices. This was the consensus of a panel discussion on freshwater.
Speaking at the Resource Management Law Association conference in Rotorua last month were Federated Farmers group manager, regional policy, Dr Paul Le Miere, Kokiri Research emeritus scientist Dr Tanira Kingi, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council chief executive James Palmer and Ministry for the Environment director of implementation Sarah Clarke.
They discussed progress being made to implement the National Policy Statement (NPS) for Freshwater 2020. It sets out objectives and policies for freshwater management under the Resource Management Act.
Dr Kingi spoke about Te Mana o te Wai/ mana of the water (TMOTW), which was incorporated into the NPSFM in 2014. Then in 2018, Kahui Wai Maori (the Maori Freshwater Forum) was formed, which expanded the framework of TMOTW and developed it into the framework of the NPS for Freshwater 2020. Dr Kingi was part of that group and his thoughts on TMOTW were insightful.
He said there are three fundamental concepts in TMOTW – hierarchy of obligations and responsibilities, Mahinga kai (compulsory value) and Mana Whakahaere (governance).
“The hierarchy is around the hierarchy of obligations and responsibilities. The first one is around the provision for the wellbeing of freshwater. The second is the provision for communities. The third is the enabling of other activities including economic and social activities among those communities,” Dr Kingi said.
“The way it is worded in TMOTW is not put in a format where these obligations are trade-offs against each other. Look at them in its entirety, this is a set of obligations and set of responsibilities, you don’t look at algorithms to make tradeoffs. The first two should not be looked at as constraints to the delivery of the third obligation. While it’s termed a hierarchy in some ways it is a misnomer because they need to be looked at as an entire system and the interactions between each of those three components.”
Beginning with Mahinga kai (compulsory value), Kingi said the literal translation is the production of food but there are multiple layers in understanding the deeper meaning behind kai.
“Kai is a reflection of the interaction between humans and the natural environment. One of the products of that is food. So, it’s not just gathering food but understanding your relationship with the natural environment, your participation and functioning in it needs to be in a way that produces food of high quality,” he said.
Moving to Mana Whakahaere (governance), this could be a group of individuals whether they are a hapu, an iwi or other terminology like ahi karoa (those who have had uninterrupted land rights and occupation of the land).
For example, with the Bay of Plenty Regional Council jurisdiction there are 250 hapu and 37 iwi.
“The idea behind Mana Whakahaere is that these groups self-define and self-describe themselves and their relationship to a water body. It could be a catchment, sub-catchment, stream or river,” said Kingi.
“The challenge for local authorities is to work through how to form relationships with a wide, dispersed group of people that have got longstanding interests in freshwater bodies.”
Package of reforms
Sarah Clarke spoke about the Ministry of Environment’s essential freshwater package which is designed to halt further decline to waterways, improve water quality within five years and significantly improve towards restoration within a generation.
“The National Environmental Standards for Freshwater is about halting decline. So, it’s the one where you might hear about intensive winter grazing, raising fertiliser reporting rules and fertiliser caps,” she said.
She said it was pleasing to see the primary sector improving winter grazing practices.
“We’ve seen data come through that shows that there’s less cropping on slopes now nationally, and I think that is a little bit of the rules, but also, we have to acknowledge the work that industry and councils have done to lift practice in this area. And we’re also seeing a decreasing trend in nitrogen use starting to come through some of our data as well,” said Clarke.
Dr Le Miere was asked by MC Miriama Kano if it was realistic for rivers and lakes to be restored and provide for economic activity or if these two things were mutually exclusive.
He said this could be achieved because there were sustainable development options. For example, communities could work out where the water quality is and what they’ve got to do to achieve the outcomes they want, followed by working out what scale and pace is achievable and affordable.
Dr Le Miere cited Waikato Regional Council’s Plan Change 1. The proposed plan seeks to reduce the amount of contaminants entering into the Waikato and Waipā catchments. It will apply to approximately 10,000 properties and an area of 1.1M hectares.
The council has an 80-year timeframe to achieve the goal as it will mean undoing environmental damage done by over a century of development.
In the 15 years Dr Le Miere has worked at Feds, he has seen an attitude change towards restoring waterways. “Farmers are very much getting on board with what they need to do and work through it. We’ve got regulatory processes that we must go through and they’re hard and laborious, but we need to work through them.”
“We’ve still got to work on our traditional areas of sheep and beef and dairy and lower the footprint. We’re very confident that we can get there – we can farm and rise to that challenge. It’s just working through how we do it and do it with the least disruptions,” he said.
Dr Kingi said it was encouraging to see farmer groups working more collaboratively together.
“Farmers and our industry organisations like Federated Farmers are feeling that this is not something that individual farmers should face alone,” he said.
“There’s only a certain amount of tweaking of the agricultural system that you can do with your farming system. In some cases, you do need to look at quite serious land use change. And that can be done where collectives come together, where they can look at developing new supply networks,” Dr Kingi said.
However, there are roles that needs to be played both by regional councils and central government and being able to develop pathways for new products and new systems into new markets.
“So, this is a long game that we’re playing here. And we need to look at laying the tracks now.”
James Palmer said he was pleased to see ownership being taken by rural communities, and by urban communities every winter wanting to plant riparian on nearby streams.
“What I’d like to try and avoid as a regulator, is that the legal processes under both the current RMA and the future natural built-in environments that doesn’t pull the community apart into polar opposite places, where we resort to courts and litigation to try and work these issues through when we have so much goodwill to work with,” he said.