While in Southland we are blessed to have plenty of water, there have been concerns about the degradation of water quality.  We also need to look at how we use this resource effectively and fairly.  A new process to improve New Zealand’s fresh water management was announced this month by Environment Minister Nick Smith and Agriculture Minister David Carter.

Reform of New Zealand’s fresh water management is needed to address deteriorating water quality and poor incentives for water allocation and storage.

New Zealand’s abundant fresh water resources are the envy of many other countries and the key to our competitive advantage in agriculture and renewable energy – as well as being essential to our environment and lifestyle. The problem is that our system of management has not kept up with the extra pressure on our water system.

Today’s announcements are about Government setting the direction of water reform and setting up a process with stakeholders and Māori to develop solutions.

This work is being led through a collaborative process by the Land and Water Forum involving major water users in agriculture, industry and power generation as well as major environmental and recreational groups. This process will run over the next year and the Government will seek public comment before making any policy decisions.

This approach reflects a new style of collaborative environmental governance outlined in National’s 2006 Bluegreen vision document and 2008 election policy.

Some parts of New Zealand are approaching water resource limits and the issue needs to be addressed.

New Zealand has plenty of water, but not always in the right places and at the right times. This has led to demand outstripping supply and economic opportunities being constrained. Water is a vital input for the primary sectors, which are collectively the biggest export earner and employer in Southland.

The focus of the new direction will be on water quality, water quantity, allocation, and infrastructure including water storage.

We need to ensure that the changes we make are workable and carefully balance New Zealand’s important environmental reputation with the potential for ongoing economic growth from the primary sector.