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By Daniel Collins

WaterGovernanceWaiology2013On Saturday the Government released its freshwater management reform proposal – Freshwater reform 2012 and beyond. The report proposes a massive suite of reforms, stemming from work initiated in 2009 with the Government’s ‘Fresh Start for Freshwater’, and based on recommendations from the Land and Water Forum, and consultation with stakeholders and the Iwi Leaders Forum.

“The freshwater reform package presented in this paper is based on and consistent with the Land and Water Forum’s recommendations. The Forum’s core proposals (collaborative planning and the national objectives framework) will be progressed immediately, while others will be integrated in the Government’s direction and guidance in the next few years, or will be developed as part of the Government’s longer term programme of reforms.”

Reforms are grouped into three areas: (1) planning as a community, (2) a National Objectives Framework, and (3) Managing within quantity and quality limits. Some will be implemented immediately and others in the longer-term. See the following tables for more detail.

Planning as a community
Immediate reforms Next step reforms
Include an optional collaborative planning process in the RMA, covering plan development, independent hearing panels, and limited appeal rights

Provide national guidance and a support package on implementing the collaborative planning process
Formalise a role for iwi in providing advice and formal recommendations, with a requirement for a council to consider that advice before making decisions on submissions, both for the new collaborative process and on Schedule 1 decisions relating to fresh water in a proposed plan
A National Objectives Framework
Immediate reforms Next step reforms
Make consequential changes to the National Policy Statement and/or other regulation making powers to facilitate a National Objectives Framework and consequential amendments to section 69 and schedule 3 of the RMA Provide guidance and regulations to set clear national expectations and support limit setting under the National Objectives Framework, including managing outstanding water bodies and wetlands
Develop regulation to implement the National Objectives Framework including national bottom lines
Managing within quantity and quality limits
Immediate reforms Next step reforms
Amend the RMA to ensure that councils can obtain information needed for accounting systems Provide national guidance on dealing with over-allocation
To account for all freshwater takes: make amendments to ensure the Government can require councils to collect data from all water users and share data with central government; use any standard accounting system developed; and adopt defined methods for estimating water takes Provide national guidance and/or direction on dealing with transition issues (quantity)
To account for all contaminants (for regional decision-making): make amendments to ensure the Government can require councils to collect data on all sources of contaminants and share data with central government; and adopt defined methods for estimating discharges Provide national guidance and/or direction on managing takes that do not need consents
Provide national guidance and direction on the setting of allocation limits covering all water takes Provide national guidance and/or regulation on compliance and enforcement (quantity)
Develop sector good management practice toolkits Provide national guidance and/or direction on the choice of methods and tools to manage water quality
Develop national guidance on implementing the national policy statement provisions on water efficiency Review the duration of permits
Develop national guidance on the specification of water permits Develop alternative tools for initial allocation of fresh water
Review the Water Research Strategy Develop options for allocating permits on expiry
Provide national direction on accounting for sources of contaminants Facilitate transfer and trade for quantity
Provide national guidance on the use of models for managing freshwater quality Develop new transfer or offsetting mechanisms for water quality
Develop incentives for efficient water use (both for quality and quantity): for example, pricing and standards

As these are all proposals, members of the public have the opportunity to submit comments to the Government by 5 pm, Monday 8 April. The accepted proposals will be woven into the 2013 Resource Management Reform Bill later in the year.

It is remarkably fortuitous that this report was released during Waiology’s series on water governance. Some of the remaining articles during the series will be sure to address these proposals, in each instance shedding some light of the role of science in the governance process. In the meantime, have a read of the full document and offer your impressions and comments on the science here.


Dr Daniel Collins is a hydrologist and water resources scientist at NIWA.