Public perceptions of NZ’s freshwater management

By Waiology 19/10/2011

By Daniel Collins

In my previous post I wrote about how Kiwis perceived the state of our freshwaters and how certain they were. Drawing from a report by Lincoln University, I’ll now cover what Kiwis think about freshwater management and what they want management to achieve.

Most people believed that all aspects of the environment, freshwaters included, are managed at least adequately, and that this management has improved over the last 10 years. However, people were most negative about management of rivers, lakes and groundwater. And again, just as people were least certain about the state of wetlands and groundwater, people are also less certain about the management of these freshwaters.

In terms of activities, more than half of the respondents thought that management of farm effluent and runoff was bad or very bad, while they were most satisfied with management of sewage disposal. Indeed, most people thought that the degradation of freshwaters was due primarily to farming, though a substantial portion also implicated sewage and storm water, as well as industrial activities. The primary drivers of wetland degradation were considered to be pests and weeds, farming, and sewerage and storm water. Looking down ethnic lines, Maori implicated sewage and storm water as the main culprit for degraded freshwaters, followed by farming; for NZ Europeans, it was the other way round.

Many people did not know how effective different planning or policy mechanisms were in regards to freshwater sustainability. They did, however, have more faith in regulatory approaches and least faith in voluntary programmes, while economic approaches like water trading or pollution fees were intermediate. Combined approaches, that use all of these methods, were the most popular. People generally approved of water-use meters, and of leaving water in rivers for environmental and recreational needs. And while more than half of the respondents thought no further abstraction should occur from lowland streams, almost a third did not know about the quality or management of these streams.

As for the desired outcomes of freshwater management, people generally wanted safe water to swim in, safe water to drink, no further significant pollution, and protection of the most important fishing rivers. Opinions on other outcomes, such as biodiversity and hydropower, were more divided. Over 20% of respondents considered customary Maori values as being irrelevant in terms of freshwater resources. And looking down ethnic lines again, 70% of Maori believed that Maori values should be considered a lot more in freshwater issues; only 17% of NZ Europeans thought the same. Also, more NZ Europeans and other ethnicities found aquatic biodiversity loss to be acceptable than did Maori.

So, overall, we want a clean freshwater environment, but we don’t see eye-to-eye on all the issues or how to get there. This is quite apparent in the two recent developments related to Southland’s Waituna Lagoon and the Manawatu River. Developing a better template for solving these types of problems is in fact the job of the Government-appointed Land and Water Forum, and I’m sure Waiology will cover that in more detail in posts to come.

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