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MFE Essential Freshwater Update
14 December 2018
MFE Essential Freshwater Update
This is an update on the government policy work programme to improve water quality and ecosystem health.  This email comes to you from the Freshwater Taskforce, based at the Ministry for the Environment.
You can sign up to recieve these updates on the MFE website. 
As Environment Minister David Parker announced in October, the Essential Freshwater work programme will set New Zealand on the path to turning around water quality trends and lead to long-term improvements in freshwater health.  
The Government is committed to delivering a noticeable improvement in water quality in the next five years, while acknowledging there must be a concurrent and substantive discussion about Māori rights and interests.  You can read more about the programme and download the documents Essential Freshwater and Shared Interests in Freshwater on our website.  
There is no easy fix, and we are working on a number of fronts.  
  • New rules setting national direction – a new National Environmental Standard, an updated National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and changes to the Resource Management Act.
  • Nationally consistent information on catchment risks, and encouraging and supporting catchment-level activity. Fair allocation of fresh water and nutrient discharges, having regard to all interests including Māori.
We are making good progress on options for new national direction across critical issues such as ecosystem health, protection for wetlands, addressing sediment, and clarifying and improving problematic areas in current regulations.  We are discussing these options with a network of independent advisors.
Advisory network
The advisory network includes the groups Kahui Wai Māori, the Freshwater Leaders Group and the Science and Technical Advisory Group. The Taskforce is also working closely with regional councils, through a sub-group of Regional Council Chief Executives.  
The advisory groups are meeting regularly, sense-testing proposals and options and bringing a valuable non-Government perspective to the issues facing New Zealand’s fresh water. On 7 December, members of all three groups gathered for a joint workshop (photo below).
Improving farm management practices and managing intensification
As part of the package of new rules setting national direction, we are looking at on-farm changes that will stop further contamination of fresh water.  This includes rules to manage activities that pose a high environmental risk such as intensive winter grazing and hill country cropping and to exclude stock from waterways, as well as encouraging uptake of good practice.   We are also looking at options for managing intensification – that is, constraining changes such as increasing fertiliser use or stock numbers where that creates an additional risk to the environment. 
Over November and December we have been talking to our advisory network, farmer representatives, Māori agribusinesses, environmental NGOs and regional councils about options and how they might be implemented.  We are also looking at how to align on-farm actions to improve water quality with actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  There will be more public discussions on these topics next year.
Reducing urban water pollution 
Work is also underway to improve management of urban catchments and protect sources of human drinking water.  The proposed amendments to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management will aim to better provide for ecosystem health across all catchments – urban and rural.  There will be public consultation on the proposed new rules in the first half of next year.
The Freshwater Taskforce is contributing to the Three Waters Review, focussed on the regulation and management of drinking water, wastewater and stormwater. 
Assessing risk in individual catchments 
Earlier this year we began a process of collecting and assessing information on at-risk catchments, picking up on recommendations from the Land and Water Forum.   At a workshop in November and in discussions with the advisory network groups, we heard that we needed to do more work on our approach.  
Our aim is to produce national-level information on risks in individual catchments that would help target regulation, investment and potentially other actions. Information from this project will, for example, help us see which catchments most need constraints on intensification through a new National Environmental Standard.  We will be working with Mātauranga Māori advisors and others to further develop a robust and credible risk assessment method. 
At the same time, we are working on identifying a small number of ‘exemplar’ catchments where we would model ways of collaborating to improve freshwater health. These exemplars will also provide us with information about gaps that could be filled by either regulatory or non-regulatory interventions.  
We will be back in touch with those who have provided us with information, and will be following up with people in some catchments that have the potential to offer good examples of how to address a range of issues with a variety of actions. 
About the Freshwater Taskforce
The Taskforce is led by the Ministry for the Environment. We have several regional council specialists working in the Taskforce alongside people from a number of government agencies including Te Puni Kōkiri, Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Department of Conservation, Ministry of Primary Industries and Treasury. 
You can contact us by email at
Ngā mihi
Freshwater Taskforce
Ministry for the Environment