Wednesday, April 01, 2015

A victory on freshwater

Fresh water quality is one of the big environmental battlegrounds in New Zealand, with the government hellbent on destroying it for the profit of its cronies in the dairy sector, while the public understandably wants rivers which are safe to swim in. Now the Environment Court has made a significant decision in that battle:

The Fish and Game organisation is hailing an Environment Court ruling on water quality management in Hawke's Bay as a landmark decision which will have implications for other regions.

Hawke's Bay iwi Ngati Kahungunu challenged the Regional Council's proposal to change the way it manages water quality in its regional plan.

Fish and Game environmental manager Corina Jordan said Judge Thompson of the Environmental Court had rejected the Council's approach to manage the overall quality of water by allowing a decline in some areas to be balanced out by an improvement in others.

Why is this significant? Because National's new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management - the one that sets a "bottom line" of rivers that will make you sick - seems to advocate exactly that approach, by setting an objective that
The overall quality of fresh water within a region is maintained or improved...
Its draft implementation guidance for local authorities is even more explict:
Objective A2 recognises that maintaining all aspects of water quality everywhere may not be possible or desirable, economically or socially. It does not require every water body to be improved in a region; some will remain in their current state (unless they are below national bottom lines or have been degraded by human activities to the point of over-allocation). The freshwater objective-setting process outlined in part CA of the NPS-FM provides a process to assist with this decision-making.

Objective A2 allows for some variability in water quality as long as the overall water quality is
maintained in a region. Objective A1 must also be met. Maintaining or improving the overall quality of fresh water within a region means that water quality cannot be allowed to decline in one part of a region without equally improving it elsewhere. If a freshwater objective is set that allows for degradation from the current state, it must be offset by objectives to achieve a commensurate improvement within the region.

[Emphasis added]

"Offsets". Its like climate change all over again. But unlike tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent, rivers aren't simply interchangeable. Unless you think of them simply as supplies of water for cows, rather than as individual ecosystems.

I'm still waiting for a copy of the judgement to appear on NZLII, but the Court apparently ruled that deliberately allowing water quality to decline was contrary to the purposes of the RMA. The implication for the government's approach in the National Policy Statement - and its underlying desire to trash our lakes, rivers and streams for the benefit of the dairy industry - should be obvious.