A recent hikoi and associated petition presented to Parliament this week highlights the increasing focus being given to the management of the quality of freshwater in New Zealand.
The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 ("NPSFM") requires that the overall quality of freshwater within a region is maintained or improved. The NPSFM also sets national bottom lines for the quality of freshwater.
The NPSFM sets national bottom lines for two compulsory values (ecosystem health and human health for recreation) and minimum acceptable states for other national values. The compulsory national bottom line for human health for recreation requires that as a minimum, water bodies will present a "no more than moderate risk" of infection to people who undertake activities that involve only occasional immersion in water (i.e. secondary contact activities such as wading or boating).
The petition seeks to increase the standard to apply to primary contact activities such as swimming (i.e. full immersion).
The timing of the petition is interesting as the Government is currently consulting on proposed changes to the NPSFM. The consultation document does not signal any amendments to the current national bottom lines in the NPSFM. You can read more about the proposed changes here
The petition also highlights the tensions between the cultural, recreational and environmental values of freshwater and the effects that some activities (including industrial uses and farming) may have on water quality.
The Government has signalled that while it may be open to strengthening the NPSFM, that it is not practical to require every water way to be at a swimmable standard. It seems that the focus will remain on the changes to the NPSFM that are currently being consulted on, along with the wider RMA reform agenda.
In that respect, the Resource Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 was referred to the Local Government and Environment Select Committee and the public submission period closed on 14 March 2016. A report from the Select Committee is due on 3 June 2016. There are no significant changes signalled to the obligations of regional councils in respect of the management of freshwater quality as part of the Bill.