Freshwater plan: ‘This is going to be huge, this is not just a farming package’ - Federated Farmers

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Townies are naive about the "huge" impact and cost a proposed government freshwater action plan will have across the country, says Federated Farmers.

Rural residents are showing up in their hundreds to public meetings about the scheme, despite it being the busiest time of year for them. But on the whole townies don't seem to be so aware of the proposals, Federated Farmers environment spokesperson Chris Allen said.

"This package affects urban - our city cousins, as much as it does farmers. This is going to be huge, this is not just a farming package.

"The fact that it affects councils [means] everyone needs to understand that it's a big undertaking and it's going to cost a lot of money, so expect rates to go up."

The package announced on 5 September includes plans to improve the health of waterways, such as national standards for managing stormwater and wastewater, and tighter controls on urban development.

Federated Farmers were among those who had complained the initial six week consultation period was too short.

On Friday evening Environment Minister David Parker announced a two week extension for public submissions, until 31 October.

Mr Allen said a 12 week consultation period would be more realistic for farmers to work through the "comprehensive" plan, and talk with their bankers and farm advisors about how it would affect them, so they can make informed submissions.

He said Federated Farmers have done a good job of informing their members about what the proposals will mean, but councils need to provide more information to their residents, so they are informed too.

Environment Canterbury deputy chairperson and farmer Peter Scott agrees both rural and urban should "pay attention".

"Rural communities seem to be really heavily involved, because they see the numbers put forward in terms of dissolved inorganic nitrogen and phosphorus and they scare them, I think urban communities are probably less involved.

"But the intent here is going to mean some big changes in towns, in terms of the three waters ... and I'm not too sure people understand that. I think people need to be aware of what's on the table."

Mr Scott says Local Government New Zealand and councils will be making submissions.

"But individuals also need to be aware of what's going on, because at the end of the day, if the legislation changes are going to happen, there's only two places they get money to make them happen - and that's taxes and rates, so they should be aware ... big things are afoot and they will be costly."

Engineer and clean water advocate Greg Carlyon has previously told RNZ the changes were likely to cost "many many billions".

Former environmental policy advisory Dr Catherine Knight also urges those with an interest in both town and country to participate.

"If people feel strongly about fresh water in New Zealand and its management and improving our waterways, they should consider making a submission."

The submissions that will have the most weight are those that directly address the specific proposals, rather than broader opinions about water quality, she says. However it can be challenging for people to find time to do a thorough analysis of the documents, to write a response.

She says finding material from a group who have looked into the proposal, such as Forest and Bird or the Federated Farmers, can help people be informed and make submissions.

"Big steps need to be made soon if we're going to halt the degradation of fresh water in New Zealand, and it will have some direct impact on some sectors of our communities.

"We have to do our best to make sure that is managed, and there's transitions that allow people to adjust. We don't want big sectors, parts of our communities to be hurt by these changes. At the same time we do need to start making these changes sooner rather than later, otherwise it's just going to get harder and more painful."

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