A remarkable consensus has been reached among groups with disparate objectives, such as Federated Farmers, Forest & Bird, and politicians of various stripes. They all welcomed the latest Land and Water Forum's third and final report, doubtless because it is the result of a collaborative approach to freshwater management.
The report strikes a balance between economic and environmental concerns, providing what forum chairman Alastair Bisley described as a "once-in-a-generation chance to resolve the entrenched problems surrounding fresh water". Fish & Game's Kevin Hackwell said the recommendations would deliver cleaner rivers "while meeting existing and future economic welfare".
Critically, the forum favours management decisions being taken at the local catchment level within national frameworks and bottom lines set by the Government. Waikato Regional Council values this approach. Land and water quality subcommittee chairman Norm Barker said: "It's important we have Waikato solutions for Waikato issues driven by the regional community."
But NZ First primary industries spokesman Richard Prosser opposed the concept of charging for water and trading water rights "using dubious environmental concerns as an excuse".
Dubious? Our Environment Ministry last month released a survey showing more than half the country's freshwater recreational sites were unsafe for swimming. The New York Times picked this up, noting that faecal contamination of our waterways - caused largely by dairy farming, it said - was widespread.
The Hobbit will put New Zealand's breath-taking vistas in the spotlight, but the newspaper's report exposed the "clean green" imagery we love to project as chicanery: it cited an international study showing New Zealand was 18th worst among 189 nations for preserving its natural surroundings.
The next step in acting on the forum's advice is up to the politicians and their officials. Environment Minister Amy Adams and Primary Industries Minister David Carter said they would carefully consider the recommendations.
Careful consideration is to be welcomed, but not procrastination. Issues on which the forum could not agree, such as charging for water use, must be tackled too, along with making polluters pay for cleaning up their mess.
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