Water rules becoming a serious threat

David Clark is the president of the Mid Canterbury Federated Farmers and penned the following column for next week’s edition of Guardian Farming. However, it’s a column worthy of sharing with all Guardian readers.


Unfortunately, we are facing the grim reality of renewed community transmission of Covid-19.

Many would say that the re-emergence or re-introduction of Covid-19 was inevitable.

David Clark

That may be so, but that then leads to a key question – how has our Government used the six-month head-start since the WHO’s first declaration of a global pandemic that the first lockdown has bought us?

What has been done to increase the capability and capacity of our hospital system to provide treatment when faced with widespread community transmission of Covid-19? How many more ICU beds and respirators do we have nationally and how many military personal and medical students have been trained in their use?

What is our contact tracing capacity and speed?

Or is it still a clipboard at the door system doomed to failure?

As for the economy, renewed lockdowns will be bleak for many businesses already on their knees.

In this part of the world, we can only hope that the Level 3 lockdown in Auckland does not grow into heightened restrictions across the rest of New Zealand.

In Parliament, the Government has passed its Essential Freshwater suite of rules by decree of Cabinet.

As you will all know, I have been sounding a view of caution as to the impact of what we understood the rules may require.

It would appear, on the analysis completed so far on what is incredibly complex legislation, that the rules are worse than we could have imagined, hoped for, or feared.

It may well be argued that the rest of the New Zealand economy is on its knees, or will be when the sugar rush of supplementary government Covid-19 spending dries up and the agricultural and horticultural sectors may be our main source of foreign earnings, but this legislation takes a wrecking ball to that.

I would flag four key issues.

Firstly, the provision of Te Mana o te Wai which is intended to protect the mauri of the wai.

The legislative process of this requires all matters regarding the management of the environment to be judged in a hierarchical status.

“There is a hierarchy of obligations in Te Mana o te Wai that prioritises:

First, the health and well-being of water bodies and freshwater ecosystems, second, the health needs of people (such as drinking water), third, the ability of people and communities to provide for their social, economic, and cultural well-being, now and in the future.”

Until now, communities, via national, regional and district plans, consultations and consent hearings were required to consider all these attributes with even weighting.

That is no longer the case, and any argument of the economic contribution of an activity, of let’s say, dairy farming to the Mid Canterbury economy would be only considered after the first two attributes were fully satisfied.

Secondly, stock exclusion requirements are now dictated by a map that designates all “low slope” land required to exclude cattle from all waterways wider than one metre bank to bank.

Unfortunately, this map has been vested in the RMA and would require a Decision of Cabinet to amend it.

It is not possible to apply to a regional council to amend or correct the map or its designation.

On one property in the high country of this district that has been designated as requiring stock exclusion, the fencing needed is closer to kilometres per animal than it is to animals per kilometre.

Solutions are best found when problems exist; solutions without problems are rarely of value.

I have other examples that will keep for another day of where this map fails as its assessment is based on a hybrid of land title area and the percentage of land slope that results in outcomes that are nothing more than a dog’s dinner.

Thirdly, the Freshwater National Policy Statement 2020 has at Appendix 1A –

“In a healthy freshwater ecosystem, all five biophysical components are suitable to sustain the indigenous aquatic life expected in the absence of human disturbance or alteration (before providing for other values).”

That can be read that the application for, or renewal, or auditing of your resource consent could be required to meet a pre-human standard.

The fourth significant issue is winter grazing, with requirements for resource consents for winter grazing, including sheep covering more than 10 per cent of the farm or 50ha.

Among the requirements the consent with be judged upon is not more than 50 per cent of the field being pugged and no area of pugging greater than 200mm.

Pugging appears to be determined as a hoof penetrating the surface.

These two criteria can be exceeded if the farmer can demonstrate that the effects on the environment are not more than the prescriptive rule.

Cows on beet or kale will be hard pressed to meet these stipulations and that could potentially have a major impact on the wintering of stock across much of New Zealand and particularly in the South Island.

None of this is a suggestion that farmers do not want rules or have a flagrant disregard for the environment.

Far from it, New Zealand farmers have been investing for many years in waterway fencing and riparian planting, the Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan sets out environmental targets that while difficult to achieve, are obtainable and will have a marked benefit to the environment.

The key, however, is that the Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan is achievable.

Just before you think this only applies to agriculture, it would pay for those living in urban areas to remember that discharging storm water into the Ashburton River is a “human disturbance” and the Lake Hood development could well be argued to be an “alteration” to the river and its environs.

It is my view that this legislation is a significant and serious threat to the economic well-being of our district and our country.