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Concerns over dangerous shifts proposed for freshwater policy

The new coalition Government has begun a significant overhaul of environmental laws, particularly those safeguarding our precious freshwater resources. The proposed changes, shrouded in a lack of public engagement, raise serious concerns for the health of our waterways and the transparency of the Government’s decision-making process.

Endangered NZ freshwater mudfish


The Government's hasty approach to rewriting these laws poses a severe threat to our already fragile and overloaded freshwater ecosystems.


“It is disheartening to witness significant shifts in water policy without giving the public the opportunity to engage,” says Natalie Jessup, General Manager of Tāngaro Tuia te Ora, The Endangered Species Foundation. “We are particularly concerned by the Fast-Track Consent Bill and the dismantling of existing protections for freshwater, which could have far-reaching consequences for both our environment and communities”.

The Government has proposed under the Fast-Track Consent Bill to create of a list of projects that will circumvent existing democratic processes. These projects have not been announced but coalition agreements indicate they are likely to include large-scale irrigation schemes and mining that will have serious consequences for waterways and communities.


“By prioritising large-scale irrigation and urban development schemes without adequate public input or oversight, the government is putting our waterways at risk. This not only jeopardises the health of our freshwater ecosystems it also leaves little room for mana whenua and wider public input. Water is essential to life and our government leaders' need to prioritise the health of our freshwater above all else.” Dr Aroha Spinks, Environmental Scientist.

The decision to disapply Te Mana o te Wai from consents in the short term and the Government’s intention to "rebalance" Te Mana o te Wai in the replacement of National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 (NPS-FM 2020) in the medium term are particularly troubling. Te Mana o te Wai, a crucial decision-making framework, establishes a hierarchy prioritising the health of waterways and people's drinking water over commercial interests.


“New coalition agreements on freshwater would take us back years, if not decades… The proposals suggest the new Government would happily prioritise polluting activities over the health of people’s rivers and their drinking water.” Marnie Prickett, Research Fellow in the Public Health Department of University of Otago, Wellington.

In New Zealand, the freshwater situation is dire and the proposed changes to freshwater policy are expected to exacerbate these issues. In Aotearoa, our freshwater native fish, plants, insects and birds are in serious trouble[1].

  • 45% of our lakes are rivers are deemed unswimmable

  • In 2017, 76% of native freshwater fish were either threatened with or at risk of extinction.

  • More than 25% of freshwater insects were at risk in 2018, including kōura / crayfish and freshwater mussel (kākahi/kaaeo).

  • Almost 33% of freshwater plants were threatened or at risk in 2013.

  • 66% of native birds that depend on fresh water, like endangered kāki (black stilt) and whio (blue duck), were threatened or at risk in 2016.


Endangered NZ freshwater fish species

The Endangered Species Foundation is also concerned by the Government's proposed overhaul of overarching resource management laws, as outlined in its coalition agreements. The repeal of the Natural and Built Environment Act 2023 and Spatial Planning Act 2023 last year, followed by the current intention to reform the Resource Management Act 1991, signals a dangerous shift in environmental protections. The commitment to new laws premised on the "enjoyment of property rights as a guiding principle" raises concerns about the prioritisation of economic interests over environmental and community well-being.


“In the face of unprecedented environmental challenges, we need to unite to safeguard the health of our waterways, preserve our unique biodiversity, and ensure a sustainable future for generations to come,” says Jessup.

You can oppose these changes by emailing Hon Chris Bishop, Minister for RMA Reform: Chris.Bishop@parliament.govt.nz

 

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