October 15, 2018

Essential Freshwater: Healthy Water, Fairly Allocated

The Ministry for the Environment and the Ministry for Primary Industries have now released the Essential Freshwater work programme.  This two-year programme is outlined in the report, Essential Freshwater: Healthy Water, Fairly Allocated, and will be jointly delivered over a two-year period by a cross-government taskforce.  This taskforce will be assisted by Kahui Wai Māori, Freshwater Leaders Group, and the Science and Technical Advisory Group.

The Essential Freshwater work programme has six work streams and three main objectives.  These objectives are:

  • Stopping further degradation and loss of our freshwater environment
  • Reversing past damage
  • Addressing freshwater allocation issues.

The work streams include taking targeted action in at-risk catchments; making a small number of amendments to the Resource Management Act; and putting in place a new National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management and a new National Environmental Standard for Freshwater Management. 

In addition, work will be undertaken to develop options for the allocation of water resources.  This work stream will also gather data and information at a catchment-level on land and water use to better understand water quality issues.  This will allow the development of options for discharge allocation and water take allocation.

The options regarding the NPS for Freshwater Management and the National Environmental Standard for Freshwater Management will be discussed with advisory networks over the next six months, with public consultation to be held in 2019.  The aim is to have both of these documents in force in 2020.

To say that the allocation of water resources is a large area is an understatement.  It is proposed that engagement in this area will be phased, and the initial focus will be on water quality rather than water allocation. 

The Crown acknowledges that Māori have rights and interests in freshwater, but the Crown position is that no one owns freshwater

In a Cabinet Paper (ENV-18-MIN-0032) on a New Approach to the Crown/Māori Relationship, the Crown’s position in regards to freshwater resources is reframed and there is a focus on accessing freshwater resources to develop under-developed Māori land. 

This Cabinet paper states that the Crown will work with Māori and regional government to consider how freshwater resources can be fairly accessed to achieve the development of under-developed Māori land.  Moreover, this Cabinet paper also states the need to gather data and information at a catchment level based on the principle that this information will be used to determine the current situation in regards to water quality, water takes and existing capital investments. 

Three broad options were considered for “addressing Māori desires for access to and use of a fair portion of freshwater resources”.  These included: impose a royalty on the use of freshwater payable to the Crown; find a mechanism to more equitably share the resources over time through a regulatory route; and allow matters to unfold through the courts and Waitangi Tribunal. 

The preferred option is to explore regulatory solutions to meet Māori concerns.  But this option is not straightforward and there are a number of issues that will need to be resolved in regards to new users, existing users, and allocation.

The previous government had five ‘bottom lines’ for the development of freshwater policy [CAB Min (15)1/9].  These were:

  • No-one owns freshwater, including the Crown
  • There will be no generic share of freshwater sources provided for iwi
  • There will be no national settlement of iwi/hapū claims to freshwater resources
  • Freshwater resources need to be managed locally on a catchment-by-catchment basis within the national freshwater management framework; and
  • The next stage of freshwater reform will include national-level tools to provide for iwi/hapū interests.

Research that BERL has undertaken on behalf of Māori land trusts and incorporations has highlighted the issues associated with land blocks that are land locked or do not have access to water.  In addition, in 2013 BERL undertook research on behalf of Te Puni Kokiri, and in partnership with the Māori Land Court, on the actual and potential utilisation of Māori freehold land. 

This research estimated the amount of Māori freehold land in New Zealand and its current use, and quantified at a macro-level what the actual utilisation of Māori freehold land was in terms of value and value-added.  The second part of this research used computable general equilibrium (CGE) modelling to consider three scenarios regarding the potential future utilisation of Māori land. 

As Māori freehold land is primarily rural land, utilisation in this research largely referred to primary sector commercial use such as farming, forestry, and horticulture.  Utilisation also encapsulates the current market value of this land, as well as the production or value-added generated from this land.

At that time, the Māori Land Court estimated there were approximately 1.47 million hectares of Māori land, which was approximately five percent of the total 26.4 million hectares of land in New Zealand.  This land comprised approximately 27,308 blocks, with an average size of 53.7 hectares.  There were 2.71 million ownership interests represented in these blocks, with an average of 99 owners per block. 

These figures on land ownership interests are particularly pertinent given the wide range of views within Māoridom about how to address freshwater issues, and at which level of Māori society any rights to use and discharge water should be held.