It’s what’s not in the Government’s new freshwater policy that might prove to ultimately be more important.

The policy proposed that 90% of all freshwater bodies be of swimmable quality by 2040.

This is still only a proposal and now enters into a period of consultation.

But its purpose carries out the promise of yet another  consultation document l(Next Steps for Fresh Water) launched a year ago, and all of this comes after the deliberations of the Land and Water Forum.

But the second part of last year’s  document — what to do about the allocation of water and how it should be paid for — has been delegated to a technical committee which very conveniently has as its reporting deadline the end of the year.

The political advantage to the Government of doing that is it removes it from any election campaign debate.

The political risk is that it allows the issue to become negotiable in any coalition talks with the Maori Party.

But Maori were supporting the water quality proposal yesterday and Environment Minister Nick Smith was promising that iwi should be involved in any planning and monitoring of water quality in their rohe.

 

Sir Tumu Te HeuHeu represented the Iwi Leaders Forum at the launch of the policy by a  rather murky tidal creek at Riverhead, north-west Auckland.

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Smith said that the degree to which iwi would be involved would depend on Treaty settlements in the area concerned.

“But already the Resource Management Act effectively includes a compulsory requirement for engaging (between Councils and iwi)” he said.

“What the Government wants to do is to provide a greater degree of consistency and help to improve the way that is done.”

In some ways, this is the easy bit. It meets the Iwi Leaders’ Forum “Nga Matapono ki Te Wai” Principles which essentially require that “instream” values be balanced against economic uses and that these balances be negotiated on an iwi by iwi basis.

While the Iwi Leaders Forum accepts the Government’s proposition that no-one owns the water; they do seek to have an allocation of water made to iwi within catchments which would be perpetual and inalienable.

This poses particular challenges in areas like Canterbury where it is estimated that over half of the streams and rivers are already fully allocate dor even over allocated.

The decision on this — and the broader questions around allocation are what have been held over till after the election.

And the Prime Minister concedes that pricing those allocations is going to be another challenge.

“If you take the position, as we do, that no-one owns the water, then working out how to charge is going to be pretty tricky.”

Smith emphasised that the allocation and pricing issues though linked to yesterday’s announcement, were separate.

“There is an Advisory Groupo. (Chaired by former Labour Finance Minister, David Caygill)

“ That is due to report back to use at the end of the year,” He said.

But for the meantime, the Government has been able to take some of the wind out of the sails of Labour (who promised that “Our freshwater is of a swimmable standard by 2035”) and the Greens last election Manifesto required that rivers be brought up to swimmable quality by 2020.

Obviously, the big obstacle to implementing the policy is the cost — much of which will fall on farmers.

Smith said the National Policy Standard would require that all stock be progressively excluded from waterways up to 2030.

It was expected this would cost $367 million, he said, and Primary Industries Minister Nathan Guy was at pains to point out that much of this would not be on fencing waterways but on providing alternative pumps, piping and troughs because stock would no longer be able to drink from waterways.

Federated Farmers water spokesperson Chris Allen said: The solutions proposed in this area need to be practical.

“Federated Farmers will make this a focus of the submissions we will be making on this policy.

“This is a critical area for us to get right.”

The Feds will be particularly concerned about applying stock exclusion regulations to steep hill and high country farms where fencing could be both expsnsive and difficult.

Last year Federated Framers President William Rolleston told National’s Blue-Greens Forum that these measures could cost farmers a substantial amount.

He said fencing cost about $10 a metre and he estimated that the new fencing could cost $3.9 billion immediately but ultimately could go as high as $10 billion.

Altogether, though the Government was happy to portray today’s announcement as a political plus, the hard parts are still ahead.