The blueprint included new rules by 2020 around freshwater quality. The environment Minister said he would change the Resource Management Act within a year to amend consenting processes and ensure stronger environmental enforcement.
"There's going to be some inclusion of the ecosystem health, so a redo of the national policy statement, which is one of the big failings in the last seven or eight years." Under this process the national policy statement and environmental standards would clarify that the way to improve ecosystems was via intensity reduction and change of land use practices.
He was content the plan had good goals that force change in a hurry but acknowledged they would be difficult to achieve by 2020. "It'll be extremely difficult, [but] we can make short-term changes by getting fences up and then stopping point source discharges."
"There's a huge amount of work going on. We've just got to identify where those catchments are that have really got water quality issues,"
The Ministry for the Environment’s Our Freshwater 2017 report indicates that urban waterways have the worst overall water quality in New Zealand, but much of the public focus in recent years has been on the impact of agriculture - particularly dairy farming - on waterways in rural areas.
“Fencing is very effective at reducing contaminant loads to waterways - by 10 to 90 per cent depending on the nature of the contaminants and local issues, Fencing works especially well for the likes of E. coli or phosphorus contamination that can result from animal waste or stream bank destabilisation. Prof McDowell says.
“A combination of better awareness of the issues and the use of good management practices (including rural fencing) in the right place is starting to reverse degrading trends in the likes of phosphorus and sediment in the water over the last decade,” Prof McDowell says.
Dairy farmers have invested in a major programme of fencing waterways to the equivalent of nearly 27,000km. They should continue to do so as it is effective at reducing waterway contamination, Prof McDowell says.
Other work also indicates that a substantial proportion of contaminant concentrations may be from natural sources.
AgResearch Research Director Greg Murison says there is a big focus by his own organisation and others, including DairyNZ, to support farmers in developing management practices that reduce the risk of water contamination.
“The number of science programmes looking at these issues demonstrates how scientists are being responsive to what is important to New Zealanders.”