Govt reveals $700m plan to improve New Zealand's waterways, stave off risk to 'clean, green reputation'

The Government has outlined how it intends to improve New Zealand's waterways, including a $700 million fund for creating jobs in wetland planting, sediment removal and initiatives to prevent farm run off entering waterways.

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New Zealand must act now to clean its waterways or risk our clean, green image, officials said.

"The measures announced today will stop the state of our rivers, lakes and wetlands getting worse, make a significant improvement in five years and return them to health in a generation," Environment Minister David Parker said. 

"Many of our rivers, lakes and wetlands are under serious threat after years of decline and political inaction. If we don’t start cleaning up our water now they will get worse, become more expensive to fix and we risk serious damage to our international clean green reputation."

The measures also include aiming to lower E.coli levels at swimming spots. 

In the next three years, there will be minimum standards for feedlots and stock holding areas introduced, a cap put on synthetic fertiliser use and a rule stating dairy cattle and pigs must be kept away from waterways more than one metre wide (from July 2023). 

There will be resource consent requirements for some feedlots and stock holding areas. 

"Minimum standards include ensuring the base area of the feedlot is appropriately sealed and that effluent is managed according to Council regulations.

"Feedlots and stockholding areas where large numbers of animals are kept in small areas impacts the environment through loss of vegetative ground-cover and contaminant and effluent runoff if not managed properly."

The Government delayed the decision on a national bottom line for dissolved inorganic nitrogen (DIN). 

It also said in the next three years the Government would "address fair allocation and Māori rights and interests in freshwater". 

Within the next five years, new rules will exclude cattle, pigs and deer from low-slope areas, some hill country wetlands and all areas where there are intensive practices. 

"Stock entering our waterways, rivers and streams leads to sediment and water contamination issues, with many rivers and lakes not able to be swum in safely," the report read. 

There would be a minimum 3m setback from rivers and streams, requirements for real-time measuring and reporting on water use.

The Government is also creating a $700 million fund to go towards cleaning up New Zealand's waterways. It is intended to be used to for installing mini wetlands, removing sediment, riparian planting, helping farmers with stock exclusion and developing farm plans and stabilising river banks.

Federated Farmers environment spokesperson Chris Allen said the proposals "still have some sharp edges that will bite our farmers and rural communities at a time when we need it least".

"We want to work with the government and regional councils to this end. In particular we want to ensure there are no more amendments to national freshwater objectives so farmers know what they’re working towards.

"As we’ve been saying all along, we want regulation that recognises and responds to the good work farmers are doing, and the importance of food production to our communities."

Fish & Game New Zealand chief executive Martin Taylor said the 12 month postponement of a DIN bottom line "is a concern considering that 5 out of the 18 scientists wanted it set at ecosystem health levels of 1 or lower".

"We expect that science will prevail."

He said strong rules for water would benefit the economy.

"The vast majority of farmers will feel little impact from these reforms, especially those who follow good farming practices. The reforms only really impact the heavy dairy areas of Taranaki, Canterbury and Southland."

The decision on the country's 'direction for freshwater' was released today, after the plan was first announced last September.