Lakes, Rivers and Wetlands

Land and Water Forum Report a brave start, which is yet to be proved

ECO welcomed elements of the Land and Water Forum report when it was release in September 2010.

The unequivocal call for a National Policy Statement for Freshwater and National Environmental Standards is supported, but these standards and policies must be strict.  ECO is cautious as to how other recommendations will be realised.

ECO was involved in the Land and Water Forum (LAWF – previously the Sustainable Land Use Forum) since it was established in June 2009.  This Forum was run in parallel with the Government’s new strategy New Start for Fresh Water.  ECO was a member of the LAWF Plenary meetings that received reports of process from an inner group which discussed the issues and negotiated principles but was mostly excluded from drafting and viewing documents.

The forum to explore a new process of collaboration within water management planning was an admirable concept but was inadequately implemented and so is still to be proved, with many interested parties not properly involved.  The collaborative approach has been inspired by Scandinavian models and this was very much a pilot approach.   To have integrity, a collaborative system has to work within a framework that guarantees genuine across-the-board consultation and a genuine shared vision of protecting our biodiversity, restoring our rivers and preventing on-going pollution.

The Government charged LAWF to:

  • conduct a stakeholder-led collaborative governance process to recommend reform of New Zealand’s fresh water management;
  • through a consensus process, identify shared outcomes and goals for fresh water and related land management;
  • identify options to achieve these outcomes and goals;
  • produce a written report which recommends shared outcomes, goals and long-term strategies for fresh water in New Zealand.

Overall there were 58 participating members included a range of industry (eg Fonterra and Federated Farmers), recreational and environmental, and local government, with observers from key government departments.  The operating process focused mainly on water issues and ran a two tier process with an internal group (Small Group) comprising 21 stakeholders which were to report regularly to the external plenary group ( which included ECO).

ECO supported the Forum intentions to find ways for the community to avoid some aggressive and costly RMA court processes.   Too often the community defending the environment for future generations is up against those with long pockets and profit to be made by over-extracting from our rivers and wetlands.   ECO supported looking for less confrontational ways to discuss these serious issues and develop sound water strategies.

Environmental management requires a very strong legislative base like the RMA, because such significant profits can be made at the expense of the environment. Exploitation of the environment is why our lowland rivers and systems are being depleted and polluted by current practices.

The report has been mainly the production of the inner group with limited input from the plenary group.  There was limited time or collaboration with plenary groups and little robust discussion in the plenary which was more a question and answer session than a process of engagement. This created significant problem for ECO Executive given some of the recommendations in the report. The ECO Executive considers that the problems with the process could have been resolved if there was sufficient time, modern electronic processes in consultation were used, and there was robust engagement with plenary members.

ECO said the report falls short of finding the formula to spell out to government.  It remains to be seen whether the Government is committed to that vision and integrity.  ECO supports attempts, but not the exact process used this time.

Some key issues

ECO supports wholeheartedly

·         the call for a National Policy Statement (NPS) for Fresh Water and the development of National Environmental Standards (NES)


·         was more cautious on endorsing the collaborative approach used, because the current NZ model had been very much a pilot project and ECO believes it was not completely successful; for example it was not capable of delivering many of the stated objectives of the process. ECO regards that further work is required to develop the full potential of collaborative processes to address issues such as those considered by LAWF.

ECO believes that a range of issues remain and have not been resolved.  These include:

  • Reaffirmation of Water Conservation Orders “for the purpose of recognising and sustaining outstanding amenity or intrinsic values of waters – including quality– in either a natural or modified state…”.
  • Avoiding extra-ordinary long-term consenting of major infrastructure, which will bind the hands of future generations and avoid periodic checks.  The RMA allows consents up to 35 years and there is no reason why shorter consents and stronger review periods could not be used to provide greater environmental certainty.
  • Acknowledging hydro generation and dams on rivers as being a consumptive use of water.
  • Ensuring a more environmentally precautionary approach which acknowledges that current polluting practices can take decades to surface and will cost future generations dearly.
  • That future collaborative processes must be truly inclusive and collaborative of interested parties, with circulation of papers in development to interested parties, with much less secrecy in their development. Many organizations with an interest in these matters have been excluded from even seeing the papers – so the process used for this Land and Water Forum will need a major overhaul if it is to be adapted to other areas.  This includes giving sufficient time and using modern electronic processes in consultation.

Other important issues include:

  • The focus of the report is on water and real consideration of sustainable land use is missing.  This includes discussion on water requirement ratios of various forms/uses of food production or industry (agricultural or economic water use intensity).
  • The need for focus on reducing water demand as well as improving the efficiency of water use.  For example recognising the extensive costs of intensive agriculture in terms of water quality and quantity and energy use, much greater research is needed into least-water-intensive and least-energy intensive food production.
  • Research should also be recommended for strategies to incentivise and support these future low-water-intensity food production industries.

For further details on the meetings and the report see

This article has been taken from the December 2010 issue of ECOlink.


There will be a symposium on National Wetland Restoration in March 2012.

See here for details:

Ramsar Convention on Wetlands:

Please see the youtube video from Ramsar about wetlands here: