Water is essential to New Zealand’s social, cultural and economic well-being. It is also a focal point for recreational activities and our outdoor way of life. Managing the quality and quantity of fresh water is critical to ensure sufficient availability for human drinking, agricultural use and ecosystems.
What are we seeking to achieve?
Longer term outcomes
The Ministry has two longer term outcomes for fresh water. These are:
Quality of fresh water maintained and improved.
Optimal availability of freshwater.
These two longer term outcomes are affected by another three outcomes:
Well-managed undesirable effects of land use on water.
Appropriately managed increasing demands.
Efficient use of fresh water.
What will we do to achieve this?
To achieve these outcomes the Ministry will:
implement the Sustainable Water Programme of Action to improve the quality and allocation of fresh water, including a National Policy Statement on Fresh Water Management and two national environmental standards
support implementation of the Lake Taupo Protection Programme and the Rotorua Lakes’ Protection and Restoration Programme by local government
implement the National Environmental Standard for Human Drinking Water Sources
evaluate the effectiveness of the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord in improving water quality
investigate the potential for a water efficiency labelling scheme.
The primary focus over the next three years will be implementation of the Sustainable Water Programme of Action, which is led by the Ministry for the Environment and Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. The national policy statement and standards will provide national direction and an appropriate framework for local government to manage towards the longer term outcomes for fresh water.
To appropriately manage increasing demands, the National Environmental Standard on Ecological Flows and Water Levels will help councils improve management of freshwater. At present there is no indicator to determine a change in state of the outcome Efficient use of fresh water. The second national environmental standard will introduce a requirement to measure water takes. This will ultimately provide an indication of water demand and supplement existing information on consented water so councils can appropriately manage increasing demands.
Demonstrating the links to outcomes
Progress towards the longer term outcomes for fresh water is described by a number of key indicators monitored as part of the Ministry’s national environmental reporting framework. These are summarised in the following table:
Quality of freshwater maintained and improved
Well managed undesirable effects of land use on water
Lake water quality
State: Small shallow lakes surrounded by farmland have the poorest water quality. Two-thirds of lakes are considered to be in good to excellent condition.
Trends: Two-thirds of lakes with sufficient monitoring data to determine trends have stable water quality (ie, are neither deteriorating nor improving).
Nutrient concentration in Lake Taupo
State: Some evidence of gradual deterioration.
Ground water quality
State: 61 per cent of the ground waters in New Zealand that are monitored have normal nitrate levels; the remainder have levels that are higher than the natural background levels, and 5 per cent have nitrate levels that make the water unsafe for infants to drink. Twenty per cent of monitored ground water bodies have bacteria levels that make the water unsafe to drink.
Trends: Three-quarters of monitored ground waters have stable nitrate levels.
River water quality
Trends: Nitrogen and phosphorus levels in rivers have increased over the past two decades. Nitrogen levels have increased most rapidly in rivers that are already nutrient enriched.
Changes in land use
State and trends: There are two sets of land cover databases as well as land use agricultural statistics and agribase statistics. The Ministry does not have an indicator that unequivocally links the effects from land use to water quality. An indicator may be explored in future, linked to this outcome.
Optimal distribution, location of available fresh water
Appropriately managed increasing demands
Efficient use of fresh water
Volume of water allocated to human uses
State: Several eastern regions have surface water catchments that are highly allocated (20 – 50 per cent of river flow is allocated to users). It is estimated that total water use in New Zealand currently equates to two to three times more water per person than in most other OECD countries.
Trends: The volume of water allocated (ie, consented to be taken) in New Zealand increased 50 per cent between 1999 and 2006. The increase in allocation is mainly a result of an increase in the area of irrigated land. Irrigation now uses almost 80 per cent of all water allocated.
Measured water take
State and trends: Actual take is rarely equal to consented maximum take (varies between 20 – 80 per cent of consented take). There is currently insufficient national data on the volume of actual water take. The National Environmental Standard for the Measurement of Water Takes will ensure more data is available.
As part of our statutory functions the Ministry is required to prepare a regulatory impact statement for all proposed regulations, including national environmental standards. This includes cost-benefit analysis.
A cost-benefit analysis of the National Environmental Standard for Setting Ecological Flows and Water Levels, estimated the overall benefit in terms of reduced resource consents and regional plan processes in net present value (10 per cent discount rate) to be between $14 million and $36 million over 10 years following the implementation of the standard.11
An analysis of the National Environmental Standard for the Measurement of Water Takes found benefits for both outcomes Efficient use of fresh water and Appropriately managed increasing demands. A quantitative analysis found that, with improved information on the volume of water take, councils may also be able to allocate more water. The analysis estimated that the benefit arising from improved allocative efficiency and use by irrigators would be between $31.8 and $95.5 million.12 A qualitative analysis was also undertaken for the outcome Efficient use of fresh water. The analysis concluded that individual water users would also benefit from improved information about water use, because they could find ways to improve productivity per litre of water used.
The National Environmental Standard for Human Drinking Water Sources has links to the outcome Quality of freshwater maintained and improved. While it is difficult to quantify the benefits directly attributable to the standard, if it resulted in a 15 per cent improvement in water quality, over 20 years this would lead to an estimated health benefit of $27 million.13 In practice, the regulation will presumably deliver much broader benefits such as reducing the need for future treatment plant upgrades, and maintaining New Zealand’s reputation as a safe tourist destination and a source of healthy, environmentally sound produce.
How will we demonstrate success?
With the implementation of policy such as the national environmental standards, the Ministry will need to assess impact on shorter term outcomes.
Over the next few years the Ministry aims to evaluate the effectiveness of the Dairying and Clean Streams Accord against longer term outcomes, particularly well managed undesirable effects of land use on water. This will help the Ministry to judge whether the Accord has improved water quality.
11 Benefit Cost Proposal on National Environmental Standard on Ecological Flows and Water Levels, Ministry for the Environment, 2008.
12 Cost Benefit Analysis for a National Environmental Standard for Water Measuring Devices, Ministry for the Environment, 2007.
13 Proposed National Environmental Standard for Sources of Human Drinking Water, Ministry for the Environment, 2005.
© Ministry for the Environment