1 Oct 2020

National promises water storage policy under Infrastructure Bank

8:38 pm on 1 October 2020

The National Party is promising to set a strategic policy on water storage, and spend $600m over three years on planning and infrastructure.

National Party leader Judith Collins campaigning in Gisborne on 24 September, 2020.

National leader Judith Collins. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

Party leader Judith Collins has announced the plan this morning alongside environment spokesperson Scott Simpson and agriculture spokesperson David Bennett.

National would:

  • Fund $600m over three years for a long-term water storage plan, within the National Infrastructure Bank the party has proposed
  • Develop a National Policy Statement to provide certainty around the strategic use of water, streamline consenting and set minimum environmental standards for newly irrigated land
  • Guarantee common ownership of water for all New Zealanders
  • Treat water as a prime strategic resource, recognising the importance of water storage for resilience, urban water supply, enhanced environmental outcomes, and better land use options in rural communities

In a statement, the party said it would support the local government sector to develop three waters infrastructure including clean water infrastructure and storage.

It noted that Auckland, which had become heavily reliant on the Waikato River, had signalled it would need $224m in the next year alone just to accelerate supply boosts.

Collins said it would help New Zealand businesses increase their productivity and resilience.

"The new National Infrastructure Bank will be able to provide professional advice and finance models to enable the delivery of vital new infrastructure," she said.

Simpson said the plan would improve water flow and recharge aquifers, bolster municipal water supply and provide security for vital food production.

"Currently less than 2 percent of the water that flows over New Zealand is captured. About half of this is used in our towns and cities and the other half for irrigation. Our country has water, we're just not using it," he said.

Bennett said the party would ensure there was a commitment from farmers to "farm within existing limits and meet the highest environmental standards possible".

That would seem to conflict with Collins' stance during of reviewing and replacing some freshwater rules - including controls on winter crop grazing and feedlots, and stricter limits on nitrogen pollution - introduced by the government to improve water quality.

Collins and Bennett initially claimed the freshwater standards would be "gone by lunchtime" but Simpson later backpedalled, saying there were nine issues with the legislation the party believed needed to be repealed.

Farmers welcomed the reforms after some of the stricter measures were watered down, while environmentalists called for more action.

"We are going to be developing a national policy statement on water storage to provide certainty around the strategic use of water, streamline consenting, and minimum environmental standards for newly irrigated land. We will guarantee common ownership of water to all New Zealanders," Collins said.

But there'd be no concessions for Māori, as the long running debate over ownership continues.

"No water comes from the sky, water belongs to everybody, it is very important that where we have undertaken treaty settlements around things like ... the Waikato River, but also Lake Taupō that we make sure that we honour those.

"But I can tell you this, water comes from the sky and under us, yes, we will work with iwi."

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