Politics / Country

Government reveals plan to clean up rivers, lakes and wetlands

12:33 pm on 5 September 2019

The brakes will be put on some rural land development and more pressure put on farmers to protect New Zealand's waterways, as part of a new plan to clean up rivers, lakes and wetlands.

Environment Minister David Parker, left, and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor speak about the government's plan to clean up waterways. Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Environment Minister David Parker and Agriculture Minister Damien O'Connor unveiled the plan at Parliament this morning, with the aim of restoring the country's waterways within a decade.

"Our rivers, lakes and wetlands are under serious threat after years of neglect ... if we don't fix things now they will only get worse and will be more expensive to fix", Mr Parker said.

Under the proposal, farmers would face tight restrictions on any further intensification of land until regional councils had freshwater management plans in place - by 2025 at the latest.

There would be stronger protections for wetlands and streams. From June 2020, changes such as new irrigation or conversion to dairying would only happen where there's evidence it would not increase pollution.

Temporary controls on some land development, higher standards for popular swimming spots and stronger protections for wetlands are planned to help clean up New Zealand's waterways. Photo: 123rf.com

There would also be higher standards for popular swimming spots.

The plan also includes improving "risky" farm practices, and making sure farmers and growers understand and manage environmental risks through farm plans.

Farmers would be required to exclude stock from waterways and apply standards for intensive winter grazing, feedlots, and stock holding areas.

In catchments with high nitrate levels, they would be required to take immediate action to reduce excessive leaching.

Currently, fewer than half of the 16 regional councils have set nutrient levels in some catchments and are establishing rules to reduce nutrient run-off.

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Mr O'Connor said while farmers appreciated the value of high quality water, the growth across agriculture had simply put more pressure on the waterways.

"Farmers have done a huge amount of work to improve their practices over the last 20 years and some are leading the way in restoring our pristine waterways.

"But more work needs to be done."

The government acknowledged some farmers felt under pressure, which is why there was a $229 million package in the Budget to help with the transition.

In his other role as Trade Minister, Mr Parker said he knew how important New Zealand's environmental reputation was, and would become increasingly important as this country looked to expand its market access.

"Clean water is crucial to our economy and to our brand as a country."

The government is seeking public feedback to its plan.