Amendments to NPS for Freshwater Management
The National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2014 (NPS) came into effect on 1 August 2014, replacing the previous National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2011. The suite of amendments introduced in the NPS follow recommendations from specialist reference groups, the Freshwater Iwi Leaders Group, freshwater science panels, and over 7,000 public submissions.
The key amendments in the NPS (from its 2011 predecessor) provide for a new National Objectives Framework (detailed below), a more integrated approach between fresh water and coastal water, and greater opportunities for local community input. The date for full implementation of the NPS has also been brought forward from 2030 to 2025.
A new National Objectives Framework
One of the main amendments to the NPS is the introduction of a National Objectives Framework (NFO) for regional councils to follow when setting objectives, policies and rules for managing all freshwater within their region. The NFO requires Councils to first divide all freshwater bodies within a region into “freshwater management units” (FMU). Councils must then identify the water uses or “values”, such as swimming, irrigation, and mahinga kai, that the community prioritises most highly for each FMU. Next, Councils must determine a water quality “objective” or goal for each value the community has identified in respect of an FMU, based on relevant water quality and quantity data. Local communities will then have an opportunity to assess how, and over what timeframes, the identified goals for each FMU are to be met.
The Government has also set two compulsory national “values” (for “ecosystem health” and “human health for recreation”) that must be provided for everywhere. Importantly, the NPS now provides consistent national “bottom lines” for those two values. Councils must ensure that freshwater objectives for the compulsory values are set at or above these national bottom lines for all FMUs.
The only current exceptions to this requirement are where the existing freshwater quality of the FMU is already below the national bottom line, and the Council considers it appropriate to set the freshwater objective below the national bottom line because:
- the existing freshwater quality is caused by naturally occurring processes; or
- significant existing infrastructure (such as a hydro-scheme, and which is specifically identified in the NPS) contributes to the existing freshwater quality. The NPS does not currently identify any infrastructure to which this exception applies.
The NPS also provides for regional councils to set freshwater objectives below a national bottom line on a transitional basis, for any FMUs that are specifically identified within the NPS. This would effectively allow a longer time period for moving those FMUs above the national bottom lines. The NPS does not currently identify any FMUs to which this exception applies. The addition of any exempt FMUs will require public consultation, followed by a Cabinet decision.
One of the key benefits of the NPS amendments is “settling the science” required to support the new national freshwater objectives for ecosystem health and human health. Specifying the factors (such as particular contaminants) that must be managed in order to achieve these national bottom lines, and they levels they should be managed to, effectively reduces the scope of matters that can be challenged through the plan development process. This avoids such matters being repeatedly challenged and argued before the Councils and/or the Environment Court, as each regional plan is developed and reviewed.
For more information about how the new NPS for Freshwater Management may affect you, contact one of ChanceryGreen’s Senior Team.