Government package will boost efforts to improve freshwater quality

The Government’s recently announced Action for Healthy Waterways package includes protections and funding to improve the quality of New Zealand’s rivers, lakes, streams, estuaries, and wetlands.

The package introduces new rules and regulations around fish passage, stock exclusion, limiting farm intensification, capping on-farm fertiliser use, and stopping intensive winter grazing practices all aimed at improving river water quality and ecosystem health.

Unveiling the suite of policies at Parliament, Minister for the Environment David Parker made the case for change; citing the proportion of degrading waterways revealed by the LAWA National River Water Quality 10-year Trend Summary (2009-2018).

LAWA River Topic Lead and Environment Canterbury Chief Scientist Dr Tim Davie welcomed the package as a boost to the ongoing effort of many to protect and restore waterbodies across the country.

“The LAWA project makes New Zealand’s river water quality monitoring data accessible and generates both state and trends to help us see how healthy our waterways are and what they are doing over time. We know from the data while some waterways are in good health, others are under pressure from activities in the surrounding catchment.

“Across the country, regional councils and unitary authorities have been working with landowners, iwi, and community groups on fencing, riparian planting, effluent management, and biodiversity initiatives. The Action for Healthy Waterways package supports that work and takes it further, making Farm Environment Plans and the fencing of many waterways compulsory over the next five years. The new Government package also makes $700 million available for jobs to support and accelerate the clean-up,” said Dr Davie. 

Alongside funding and farm management rules, the package introduces higher water quality standards at swimming spots, a new bottom line for nitrogen toxicity, a deadline for councils to set out freshwater management plans, and protections for wetlands and drinking water sources.

“The package aims to stop the degradation of our rivers and streams and increase the number of improving trends, with the ultimate goal of reversing past damage and bringing New Zealand’s freshwater resources, waterways and ecosystems to a healthy state within a generation. We support this mission and look forward to seeing the details,” said Dr Davie.

Action for Healthy Waterways was developed following years of work and a substantial consultation effort. The government received 17,500 submissions on their proposals, advice from a science and technical advisory group, and hundreds of people attended public meetings and hui.

Cawthron Institute Freshwater Group Manager and Ecologist Dr Roger Young said the resulting package is a pragmatic response to feedback.

“The Action for Healthy Waterways package includes a set of initiatives that will better protect our waterways.

“I’m pleased to see a broader focus on ecosystem health and strengthening of Te Mana o te Wai. The package considers the health and well-being of our waterbodies to be paramount and addressed ahead of human needs. This moves us in the right direction when it comes to taking care of our freshwater in accordance with the values of New Zealanders.

“The package is not yet complete as policy work on potential new national bottom lines for dissolved inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus is continuing; we expect a decision next year,” said Dr Young.

The LAWA project supports the ambitious goals released in the package and will continue to track and provide access to New Zealand’s freshwater quality monitoring data and information. People interested in finding out more about the state of New Zealand’s rivers, lakes, and groundwater should visit the LAWA website: www.lawa.org.nz.



Watch the Action for Healthy Waterways package announcement:

Environment Minister David Parker announcing the Action for Healthy Waterways Package