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Major legislative change will drive future outcomes for freshwater management

After a prolonged and fairly controversial journey,  the new National Policy Statement for Freshwater, and National Environmental Standard for Freshwater came into being just days before the parliamentary session came to an end.

 These regulatory reforms will and are intended to generate significant change in the way land and its interface with freshwater are managed.  The intent summarised from Govt media statements is:

“The regulatory reforms are intended to stop further degradation of New Zealand’s freshwater resources, reverse past damage, improve water quality within five years and bring New Zealand’s freshwater resources, waterways and ecosystems to a healthy state within a generation. 

Among other requirements, the revised NPS-FM directs councils to give effect to Te Mana o te Wai by prioritising the health and wellbeing of water over the needs of people and other uses. 

 Much of the regulation is targeted at farming practice and it is likely to have pretty significant ramifications for the pastoral sector as the suite of regulations will impose among other matters a requirement for significant controls on:

  • intensification of land use
  • winter grazing on forage crops beyond defined limits,
  • stock-holding areas and feedlots,
  • structures or other works in waterways that restrict fish movement, and
  • activities that have more than a minor impact on wetlands and streams.

 How will it affect Forestry?

  • The national policy statement sets standards for elements that collectively describe the quality of water, e.g. nitrates, temperature, suspended sediment, bacteria etc.   Across many of the measures, the forest industry can be expected to perform well as a matter of normal good practice.  However, of these measures, sediment is what the forest industry and forest owners must pay meticulous attention to.  Collectively, all forest owners will need to ensure that the forestry codes for earthworks, sediment and erosion control, and harvesting are being fully implemented.  Good planning and matching equipment correctly to terrains and seasons and tight supervision will be important.
  • Fish passage for native fish has been a legal requirement for years but is still often found wanting in both private and public river crossing installations.  That will change under the new legislation.  For forest owners, especially woodlot owners, the message is simple;  your stream crossings must be designed and built to provide for this function.  “Doing it right first time” may impose added cost to installations but it is and has been a fundamental requirement of law for a long time.   
  • Fortuitously it appears that some cognisance has been taken of the National Environmental Standard-Plantation Forestry in that the permitted activity rules in the NES-PF have been accepted as being generally sufficient to meet the NES-FW.

However, what will be required is:

  • A full application of the intent and practice of the NES-PF.
  • That where you need consents under the NES-PF for such things as culvert crossings, working close to wetlands or hauling over streams,  Council’s may very well seek to impose new forms of conditions and forest owners and or their contractors will need to be very attentive to what they require or engage early in establishing workable conditions.
  • There is likely to be a whole new round of activity as Councils seek to establish water quality standards for new or existing Freshwater Management Units via community processes.   Sector engagement in the myriad of ongoing processes that this could entail will  be extremely challenging for the industry !

In the short term:

  1. Absolute attention to industry codes for earthworks and sediment and erosion control.
  2. Slash management and management of any operation hauling over streams and stream riparians must be a focus for minimising impact.
  3. Fish passage – no ifs or buts. 

“Banded kokopu - native fish like this species are much more common in small forest streams than many realize” 

“Forest streams within plantations very often are of high quality, we should take pride in keeping them that way”