Treaty Debates 2014: Water is our business

Treaty Debates 2014: Water is our business

Te Papa is presenting an evening debate on water on 30 January in its 10-year series of Treaty Debates.

This will be a provocative discussion which identifies the major issues in managing our freshwater resources and how these can be resolved.   A panel of speakers brings together a range of expertise and experience:

Huka Falls Photographer: Jonathon Kelso © Jonathon Kelso
Huka Falls. Photographer: Jonathon Kelso © Jonathon Kelso
  • Jacinta Ruru, Otago University lecturer
  • Clive Howard-Williams, NIWA Chief Scientist
  • Donald Couch, Environment Canterbury commissioner
  • Ian MacKenzie, Federated Farmers spokesperson



And the following is based on some of the key points to be made by the panel:

There is no doubt about the fact that water is the most far-reaching and serious issue in our times. Damage being done now to our waterways could prove irreversible.

Water is fundamentally important to the welfare of people, to plants, livestock, farming activities, and industry and power generation.  But our environment in New Zealand is changing rapidly, and the state of our rivers, lakes and estuaries has been declining. Our pure New Zealand image is at risk and already is seriously challenged by the levels of nutrients in our waterways. Estuaries present extra challenges. They are at the end of the catchment and show the results of accumulated abuse that has occurred upstream. As a consequence our harbours can be contaminated.

The issue in front of New Zealanders is the rapidly intensifying land use which adversely affects water quality.  Stimulated by growing international markets, the expansion of dairying is extensive and it has a major impact on water to support productive pastures. More intensive farming needs sure water supplies and at the same time demands a change in disposal of effluent.  The urban environment is also not without its challenges. Investment is needed in storm water, sewerage systems and fresh water supplies.

Access to fresh water is regulated by central and regional government. Regional Councils are the key bodies who work within the statutory regulations on water. The key legislation is the Resource Management Act 1991 (the RMA), which is currently up for review, the Resource Management Reform Bill is open for submissions until 4 February. Government has also been addressing the issues in several other ways as, for example, the Land and Water Forum, and shifts in policy.

Lake Taupo. Photographer: Jonathon Kelso © Jonathon Kelso
Lake Taupo. Photographer: Jonathon Kelso © Jonathon Kelso

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has released a comprehensive report which documents the extent of the problems. It makes clear that freshwater deterioration in quality is the cumulative effect of changes, creating a need for action of a comprehensive kind.  However, regulations are not always effective in setting limits, and monitoring change and implementing improvements will need the support of the public. Making significant improvements will take decades.

What is needed is a major mind shift – for all New Zealanders to start taking care of our waterways. This is not only the responsibility of the Government and the Regional Councils; it requires the various industries – farming, horticultural and industrial – to take appropriate action. Community groups have a role too in rehabilitating the waterways. Key groups are research institutions and scientists in furthering research, exploring scientific and technical solutions and improving training in freshwater management. Policies have usually been based on past experience but rapid changes, including climate shifts, demand collaborative sharing of research for forward planning for our future.

One issue which continues to be a subject of political debate and legal tangles is the question of who “owns” water and what rights Maori should have in regard to management and governance of water.  A Waitangi Tribunal report has recently observed that Maori have never relinquished their right to exercise control over waterways and have a right to develop them. The Maori relationship with water is a tough matter that needs to be resolved, with changes to the RMA having greater allowance for an effective Maori voice in decision-making in Council forums. Claims settlements have been significant in establishing co-management structures to good effect in several key rivers and lakes. But, over all, our rivers, lakes and waterways lack the long-term protection and Councils need effective, strategic long-range plans which will ensure our next generations are not short-changed.

A mind shift in each of us is needed for this!

You can join the conversation leading up to and during the event on Twitter #treatydebate

Event details:

Thu 30 Jan 2014,  6.30pm–8pm
Soundings Theatre, Level 2, Te Papa
Free entry

Find out more on Te Papa’s event page

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