With the complex and controversial mosaic of new regulations and changes being ushered in under the general heading of ‘3 waters’, it’s understandable that some farmers might want to throw their hands up in despair, or switch off out of sheer frustration and confusion.
That would be a mistake.
If there was one clear message from webinars Federated Farmers is running on the topics, it’s that most farms are going to be impacted. The proposed changes to the National Environmental Standard for Sources of Human Drinking Water (NES-DW) look to be particularly onerous and expensive not just for those who have bores, springs or river intakes on their property, but also for neighbours many kilometres upstream.
The fallout from the new Water Services Act for farmers who supply workers’ accommodation or a neighbour or two with drinking water are detailed on pages 4 and 27 or this issue, and in previous copies of FedsNews. So, like Federated Farmers webinar presenters Dr Paul Le Miere (Group Manager Regional Policy) and Mike Campbell (Senior Policy Advisor and solicitor), we’ll concentrate here on the NES-DW.
In short, the NES proposals are “draconian, overly-onerous and unnecessary,” Paul said. “They duplicate rules or restrictions that already apply under the RMA or regional plans.”
In terms of a new requirement for consents for application of agrichemicals in proposed Source Water Risk Management Areas (SWRMA) alone, a conservative estimate is a $500 million cost for the sector.
Mike noted there is an existing NES-DW but the Ministry for the Environment considers that it’s too often overlooked in resource consenting processes. “One of the justifications for these changes to the standard is essentially to force regional councils to do more.”
As the name suggests, a National Environmental Standard sets a national baseline and regime of rules that those writing District Plans or running resource consent hearings must abide by. Council rules can be stricter but not less strict than what’s in the NES.
“Unfortunately, it means we have a one-size-fits-all paradigm, with no discretion allowed at the regional level unless it is specifically provided for,” Paul said.
There’s no date yet for when these “instant nationwide rules” come into effect, nor for when compliance is required.
Farmers will need to comply with the NES-DW if they’re a supplier of drinking water (other than rainwater captured from a roof) to anyone other than their own household (e.g. if their woolshed/packhouse has a tap used by staff; if water from their bore goes to workers’ cottages or any neighbour/s, etc). Also captured are owners of property in one of the risk ‘zones’ around a water source take.
Water source abstraction points include surface water takes (rivers, streams and lakes) and groundwater takes (bores and wells).
There are three zones of control – the Source Water Risk Management Areas (SWRMAs).
SWRMA 1 covers the area closest to the water take and, understandably, have the strictest controls. They include a 5 metre radius around the take/bore and a 5 metre buffer 1000m upstream, 100m downstream of a waterway intake. For lake beds the zone is a 500m radius of the intake, with a 5m buffer around the lake edge.
“Unfortunately, the proposals are vague about what’s to be controlled in each zone, but for SWRMA 1 there will be restrictions on land uses such as drilling of bores, earthworks over ‘vulnerable’ aquifers, and potentially stock crossing,” Mike said. (This despite the fact stock crossing is covered by existing stock exclusion rules, an example of the duplication Federated Farmers cites.)
SWRMA 2 is Feds’ “area of biggest concern. It’s too large, and it’s too restrictive.”
The area includes land 100m on either side of waterways and their tributaries within 8 hours water travel time, or 2.5km (whichever is less) of a the drinking water intake. For aquifers it’s 1 year travel time for water, or up to 2.5km.
Again, it’s unclear what activities will be restricted in SWRMA 2, but they will include use of agrichemicals. A resource consent will be needed, and the cost estimate is $40,000-$60,000 once council fees and the need to get in a consultant to report on impacts is covered.
That cost could well grossly outweigh the benefit to the farmer and the 100m buffers could become “blighted land”, Mike said. It won’t be worth spraying for gorse, blackberry and the like – weeds among riparian plantings will get away and perversely, the water quality outcome will be worse.
Federated Farmers is deeply sceptical whether MfE has done any cost benefit analysis on the proposal – for example, no account is taken of a waterway’s flow volume and thus dilution of agrichemical. Mike said agrichemicals applied at a point 8 hours upstream of an abstraction point would be undetectable at the intake, let alone have any discernable environmental effect.
With not only the intake waterway but any tributary within the zone captured in SWRMA 2, the majority of a catchment will be covered. Proposals are so vague that it’s unknown whether a home gardener in a town 8 hours upstream of a drinking water intake would be able to spray his/her vegetable patch.
SWRMA 3 is the entire catchment around abstraction points, whether bore, river or lake. No additional restrictions are proposed for SWRMA 3 and the MfE considers the current requirements under the RMA are adequate.
Mike and Paul emphasised that Federated Farmers is “fighting hard” the unreasonable aspects of the NES-DW. As well as the formal submission, policy team members are meeting with officials and the Associate Minister of the Environment, Kiritapu Allan. GIS mapping is being used to map the extent of land the proposed restrictions will cover.