The Government is asked to accept a new approach to the vexed issues of polluted waterways and water allocation in a report released today.
Land and Water Forum chairman Alastair Bisley describes the report, the third and final from the forum over the past two years, as a "once in a generation chance to resolve the entrenched problems surrounding fresh water".
The Land and Water Forum, a body formed by more than 60 organisations, wants communities to reach a consensus.
The forum proposes a collaborative approach at both national and catchment levels to set objectives for waterways, prescribe limits for takes and discharges where these are required, and to find "fair, efficient and accountable" ways to implement the limits.
Water available for users once limits had been set should be allocated with long-term economic welfare in mind, he said.
As catchments became fully allocated, consents should be clarified and strengthened to preserve their value.
Water should also be made more easily transferable between users while preserving limits.
Eventually, consents longer than 35 years for significant infrastructure and a stronger presumption that consents would be rolled over should also be considered.
All water quality solutions should be tailored to individual catchments, Bisley said.
"Good management practice by land and water users is the basic tool. Incentivising it is the preferred approach. Regions are accountable for managing within limits. Industry schemes, catchment-wide initiatives and regulation may all help to ensure the limits are achieved within the agreed timeframes."
Bisley said New Zealanders should accept that under the pressure of people, agriculture and industry, the quality of rivers, lakes and streams would vary. "They will not all be pristine."
"We believe most New Zealanders will agree, if they are sure that there are bottom lines which preserve the health of our water and human health, that water quality will improve over time and that outstanding waterways will be protected."
The three reports reflected the work of more than 100 individuals from more than 60 stakeholders. "They form an integrated package and we hope that the Government will implement them as a whole to sustain the consensus."
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