Meat & Livestock News

New Zealand’s Urgent Call for Water Policy Reform: Simplifying Regulations and Addressing Environmental Pressures


  • The Ministry for the Environment suggests simplifying regulations for land and freshwater use in the primary sector.
  • The government aims to adjust water policy, focusing on environmental pressures, Māori rights, and biodiversity goals.
  • Challenges include meeting emission reduction targets, addressing agricultural drought, and improving the health of water bodies and soil quality.

Ministry Calls for Streamlined Water and Land Use Regulations

The Ministry for the Environment has highlighted the need for urgent reform in water policy, advising the government on the potential to streamline regulations affecting the primary sector’s management of land and freshwater.

Over the past decade, the approach to controlling urban and rural water and land use through national direction and regulations has faced criticism from farmers for being overly complex and impractical. Officials now believe these policies can be made more straightforward.

Pressures on New Zealand’s Freshwater and Coastal Environments

The briefing for incoming ministers underscores the minimal impact of the current top-down regulatory approach, pointing out the significant pressures climate change and existing land use practices are placing on the country’s freshwater and coastal environments.

To address these issues, the coalition agreement proposes replacing the National Policy Statement for Freshwater and adjusting the goals of the water quality agency, Te Mana o te Wai, to more accurately represent the interests of all water users. Additionally, there’s a pause on implementing the new Significant Natural Areas policy pending advice on integrating its objectives into the Resource Management Act reforms.

Challenges and Decisions Ahead for the Environment Minister

Penny Simmonds, the Minister for the Environment, is tasked with tackling pressing policy issues related to the allocation and management of freshwater resources. This includes addressing overallocation, environmental limits, and Māori rights and interests.

Simmonds must also consider the implementation of freshwater farm plans to aid farmers and the nationwide rollout of these plans, alongside achieving biodiversity targets set by the recent Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

Environmental and Agricultural Challenges

New Zealand faces several environmental challenges, including the likelihood of not meeting its emission reduction target of a 50% reduction from 2005 levels by 2030.

The frequency of agricultural droughts has increased, and significant amounts of highly productive land have been lost to residential development. Soil degradation and poor water quality in lakes and rivers present additional concerns, with a significant percentage of water bodies not meeting health standards for swimming or E. coli levels for drinking water.