Local Government New Zealand (LGNZ) has welcomed the launch of the Essential Freshwater package as an important step to cleaning up the country’s waterways, but says more work is needed to ensure that the Government right-sizes the package to take communities with them.
“Cleaning up New Zealand’s waterways is a goal that all New Zealanders can get behind, and something that both regional councils and territorial authorities have been working towards for many years,” said LGNZ President Dave Cull.
“The challenge in doing this has been the tools with which we’d had to do the job, which is why the Essential Freshwater package is a welcome announcement. It will considerably sharpen these policy tools, and enable councils to progress the environmental outcomes that their communities want.”
“However, getting the detail and timeline settings right will be critical. We need to set our urban and rural communities up for success by right-sizing the new regulatory requirements and the deadlines so that they can meet them.”
“The reality is that the pace of freshwater change can only go as fast as a community’s ability to pay. This is particularly so when you consider the tsunami of regulatory costs that rural and provincial areas are staring at, as well as ageing infrastructure such as storm water and waste water treatment plants across the country.”
LGNZ’s Regional Sector Water Subgroup has worked closely with the Government and the Ministry for the Environment as one of the Essential Freshwater Sub-Groups to assess the feasibility of various policy tools to meet the Government’s environmental outcomes.
“The Regional Sector strongly supports the Government’s goal to improve water quality, and continues to be well positioned as part of the solution. We are committed to taking a lead role in implementing the reforms, but recognise there are major challenges ahead,” said Doug Leeder, Chair of LGNZ’s Regional Sector and Bay of Plenty Regional Council.
“We want to ensure that the likely impact of the new proposals on communities is well understood and factored into the pace of change, so that we can then lend the Government our full support when the final package comes out.”
“Improvement in freshwater is a long-term game. What changes behaviour faster is on-the-ground support and incentives for landowners and resource users to make the necessary changes. Regional councils are already working with landowners, tangata whenua and community groups to get action, but public and private affordability will always have constraints.”
The Regional Sector also highlighted the need for an all-of-system response from Government to ensure the package can be implemented in the projected timeframes.
“From a New Zealand Inc. perspective we know that there are significant capacity, capability, and data gaps that will need to be closed to implement this package. The technically skilled staff we need just aren’t there in the numbers we need to do our job,” said Mr Leeder.
“That’s why we’re calling for an all-of-system response from Government. We need to ensure our tertiary institutions across the country are aligning their curriculums to the demand coming down the track for technical water skills. We also need to focus the National Science Challenges on freshwater, so that they’re actively closing the gaps in our scientific understanding of complex ecosystems.
“Ultimately, we all need to take responsibility to improve water quality, and that means everyone doing their part.”