Submission on “Improving our resource management system” and “Freshwater reform 2013 and beyond”


Note: Whitewater NZ submitted a single document covering both the proposed RMA and Freshwater reform documents.

Introducing Whitewater NZ

Whitewater NZ welcomes the opportunity to make a combined submission on the discussion documents “Improving our resource management system” (PDF, 4.4MB) and “Freshwater reform 2013 and beyond” (PDF, 5.4MB). The following text uses the abbreviation RMA to refer to the document “Improving our resource management system” and FW to refer to “Freshwater reform 2013 and beyond.”

Whitewater New Zealand is the national representative organisation of recreational kayakers, including canoe clubs, in New Zealand. Whitewater NZ is a voluntary, non­profit, incorporated society and is affiliated to the NZ Canoe Federation (NZCF). The NZCF is in turn affiliated to the International Canoe Federation. Whitewater NZ has delegated authority to represent the NZCF and all its member disciplines on river conservation and advocacy issues.

Whitewater NZ has represented recreational canoeists and kayakers since its foundation in 1957 as the New Zealand Canoeing Association (NZCA). In 1995 competitive canoeing disciplines such as slalom, canoe polo, and flat water racing, were spun off into their own associations, the new umbrella body the NZCF was formed, and NZCA renamed itself to the NZ Recreational Canoeing Association to reflect its non­competitive advocacy role. In 2009, NZRCA became Whitewater NZ.

Whitewater NZ has been an active, responsible and respected participant in resource management processes concerning rivers for many years, as reflected in our mission: ‘Our purpose is to preserve New Zealand’s whitewater resources and enhance opportunities to enjoy them safely.’

Recent research indicates that recreating on New Zealand’s rivers, lakes and oceans is a highly popular activity. Canoeing/kayaking (6.4%) has participation levels in a similar realm to cricket (6.8%), touch rugby (6.7%) and mountain biking (6.1%); notably more than rugby (5.7%) and netball (3.7%) [1]. Many of these participants may be using sit­on­top craft at beaches but there are nevertheless many who actively use and value New Zealand’s rivers and lakes.


‘Wild and Scenic Rivers’ 1981 Water and Soil Amendment Act

Prior to the passing of the ‘Wild and Scenic Rivers’ amendment to the Water and Soil Amendment Act in 1981 there was no effective mechanism available in New Zealand for protecting waterways of national or local significance for specific values. With the passing of this amendment interested parties (but not recreational user groups such as our own, that was not to come until later) were able to apply and obtain Local or National Water Conservation Orders on rivers of value via a structured process. This process was used to obtain some measure of protection for eleven of New Zealand’s valued waterways.

Much fresh water development that had occurred throughout the country prior to that time was under the aegis of Regional Catchment Boards [2], who although charged with looking after the wider community interests including recreational values, invariably had a development focus. “Balanced” water management was invariably the phrase used to describe what they did, but the balance was always applied on a catchment by catchment process, which invariably meant local development and farmer interests always prevailed and recreational interests were not recognised or properly catered for [2]. Also under such a regime it was hard for nationally important values to be recognised [2].

The Resource Management Act 1991

In 1980 New Zealand received a report from the OECD (as a result of the United Nations 1972 Stockholm conference on the Environment and Development) on the environmental management laws within New Zealand. The report stated that we needed to improve our laws.

In 1988 the new Labour government began working on an integrated resource management statute, which was then passed in 1991 by the subsequent National government. This groundbreaking legislation saw the repeal of 78 previous statutes and regulations and modification of many others, and introduced the concept of sustainable management that underpins the Act. The act also includes providing for people’s social, economic and cultural well being; while avoiding, remedying or mitigating any adverse effects on the environment; and maintenance and enhancement of amenity (including recreation) values.

Whitewater NZ’s involvement with the Resource Management Act

Whitewater NZ has thus been able to achieve a measure of protection of a number of New Zealand’s white water resources through two primary legal mechanisms:

  • opposing destructive developments such as hydro dams on key outstanding rivers where warranted, and seeking specific mitigation to preserve recreational amenity where necessary, and
  • as a supporter or instigator of Water Conservation Orders.

Because the current Resource Management Act recognises recreational amenity values we have been able to negotiate mitigation to preserve recreational amenity. In numerous cases this has resulted in a regime of hydro dam releases to restore natural flows to specific rivers on a scheduled basis. Many of these releases are highly popular events attracting kayakers, rafters and other river users from around the country.

Examples include:

  • Clarence River (Tranzrail, mitigation of rock removal for Clifford Bay)
  • Arnold River (Trustpower Dobson scheme)
  • Pukaki, Tekapo
  • Wairoa
  • Tongariro and Whakapapa
  • Mangahao (King Country Energy)
  • Central Plains Water (CPW)
  • Hawea (Contact Energy)

Under Contact Energy’s consent for the Hawea scheme the Hawea Whitewater Park has recently opened to rave reviews and is expected to be a significant asset for the community. Not only can it be used by kayakers, but it is used by stand­up­paddle boarders, boogie boarders, rafters, river boarders (or sledders), surfers and river buggers. The feature is designed to run at all flows and is a magnificent asset for the Wanaka, Otago and wider New Zealand white water community.

Whitewater NZ supports Water Conservation Orders as a means of protecting New Zealand’s wild and scenic rivers. Whitewater NZ has supported many WCOs, including the Motu and Mohaka WCOs, and was a key provider of evidence in support of the Buller River (Kawatiri) WCO. Significant recreational amenity has also been protected on the above rivers and also via WCOs on the Ahuriri, Rangitikei, Manganui­o­te­Ao, Grey, Kawarau, and Rangitata River WCOs. However, a significant amount of recreation amenity has also been lost through even recent large power scheme developments, e.g., on the Clutha and Kawarau because of the Clyde dam. Whitewater NZ joined with New Zealand Fish and Game Council, North Canterbury to achieve a recommendation for a Water Conservation Order on the Hurunui River but this protection was overridden by the ECan Act 2010.

Given the importance of WCOs we note with disappointment the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment’s comments that ‘Applications for water conservation orders have become rare’ [3] with only two successful orders in the past 21 years.

RMA: Question for Chapter 1: Has this chapter correctly described the key issues and opportunities with New Zealand’s resource management system?

  1. Whitewater NZ is submitting on the proposed reforms and legislative changes because it is concerned that a number of the proposed reforms and legislative changes will have negative and unexpected consequences on the environment and the interests of the wider recreational community throughout New Zealand.
  2. Access to fresh clean water in New Zealand for human and stock consumption and maintenance of healthy rivers for ecosystem services and recreational use ranging from swimming to white water boating have long been longstanding features of New Zealand’s freshwater resources. However, in recent years water quality in ground and surface water in a number of regions has been severely impinged upon by widespread intensification of farming and human activities across the country. This has occurred in spite of regional councils being charged with protecting the environment through sustainable practises as required under the Resource Management Act.
  3. Coupled with these changes has been increasing pressure on development of rivers for hydroelectric generation and more latterly irrigation development.
  4. These pressures are starting to impact severely on freshwater quality and quantity available throughout the country. Freshwater is no longer abundant, even though many think and claim that it is!
  5. Our organisation is one of a number that have strong interests in protecting the best examples of rivers in New Zealand in their natural state for current and future generations to enjoy. These include Jet Boat New Zealand Inc., New Zealand Rivers Association Inc. (private and commercial rafting and river boarding user interests), and Fish and Game. There are a number of other recreation and sporting groups throughout the country who also rely on access to rivers, such as the Bug Sports Club ( based in Christchurch(who cater for river buggers who use a new type of river craft called a river bug, and are members of Whitewater NZ). Some of these organisations have often been at the forefront of guarding the water quality of many of New Zealand’s rivers, none more so than Fish and Game, in their efforts to protect the habitat of trout and salmon throughout the country.
  6. All of these groups support community recreational activities across the country and all require clean water suitable for contact recreation and maintaining freshwater habitats and sufficient water flows so that they can carry out their activities.
  7. Whitewater NZ acknowledges the need for Resource Management Act reform. It is appropriate to review any legislation and its administration from time­to­time to ensure it is fit for purpose. However, we contend that the resource management act is mostly good as it is, and it is the administration of the act that causes most angst.
  8. One of the challenges facing applicants for use of freshwater is the lack of information regarding recreational use, in particular flow requirements.
  9. Unfortunately,the expense of litigation in the Environment Court has often failed to encourage applicants for resource consents in recognising, researching and establishing adequate mitigation for impacts on recreational amenity arising from proposals at their earliest stage. For example, the assessment of environmental effects for the Kowai intake for Central Plains Water included the preposterous claim that canoeist/kayakers require only 10cm of water depth [4]. What they require is sufficient flow to produce white water features of value.
  10. The RMA discussion document makes the unsubstantiated claim that “there is concern the focus under the resource management act has shifted too far towards avoiding effects on the environment.” [RMA, p12]. In contrast, environmental concerns reflect contemporary community values: “In terms of freshwater generally it is clear respondents want high quality water and value freshwater for its instrinsic[sic], environmental and recreation values; while they consider development important they rate maintaining instream values more highly.” [5]
  11. The FW document states the “scale of reforms make this a ‘once in a generation opportunity” [FW, p9] but only a five week period has been allowed for public consultation. This is completely inadequate for changes of such significance.

RMA: Questions for Proposal 1: Greater national consistency and guidance

  1. We are opposed to the reworking of sections 6 and 7 which would have the combined effects of removing environmental bottom lines and recognition of various values that the Act currently recognises.
  2. Instead of the changes outlined in p36­37 RMA, we note the TAG report [6], on which the RMA discussion document is based, said: “Indeed, if the Government were desirous of upholding the environmental bottom line approach formerly thought to be the correct interpretation of the Act then significant amendment should be made to the Act, because that is clearly not the law as established by judicial interpretation.” [6, p18]
  3. Environmental bottom lines are critical to our survival as a species. As the TAG advised, if environmental bottom lines are not being upheld by NZ courts then the Act should be amended to ensure that they are recognised.
  4. We oppose the introduction of word “specified” in 6(b). This requires river and landscape features and values to be identified in regional plans in order to be protected. This is problematic as much research into use and values is only undertaken when a specific consent is applied for instead of proactively. In our experience, regional councils and planners have a poor understanding of kayaking and other river recreational values and so such values are often not recognised, or are only poorly recognised, in regional and TA plans.
  5. We strongly oppose the deletion of section 7(c) the maintenance and enhancement of amenity values [p37, RMA]. Rather than being a mere technical amendment, the removal of the need for explicit regard to amenity values, and the proposed introduction of 6(m) the efficient provision of infrastructure [p37, RMA] significantly reduces the protection for wild and scenic rivers. In addition, our view is that deletion of section 7(c) removes our mandate as an umbrella organisation, and our community members such as canoe clubs and other whitewater clubs/organisations around the country, to be involved in the community conversations and collaborative planning process about what we do as a community with our water resources. This may be an unintended and unrecognised consequence of the proposed changes. We do not oppose addition of 6(m) if amenity values, including recreation, remain in the new section 6. Deletion of section 7(c) is tantamount to taking away the rights of many of the community who use and carry out recreation on the country’s lakes and rivers and their views to be heard.
  6. We believe removal of7(c) will diminish our ability to achieve mitigation of effects that reduce recreational amenity. This would have the unintended consequence of reducing New Zealand’s attractiveness as a place where “talent wants to live”, e.g., highly skilled people such as doctors, software engineers, scientists choosing to reside here because of the outdoor lifestyle, or where tourists want to visit.
  7. We oppose addition of 6(m) “the efficient provision of infrastructure” if amenity values are removed from 7 as this creates a clear bias away from preservation in favour of development.
  8. We agree that directional wording e.g. “protect” and “preserve” be retained [RMA, p37].

RMA: Questions for Proposal 2: Fewer resource management plans

  1. We support the idea of a national template to improve consistency [RMA 3.2.1].
  2. We strongly oppose the limitation on appeals to Environment Court [RMA p46]. The Environment Court is the sole body able to deal with complex environmental matters beyond the capacity of Territorial Authorities (TAs). Also, TAs as elected bodies, are at risk of capture by economic interests, and the Environment Court represents an independent check on this risk.

FW: Freshwater Reform 1: A collaborative planning process for fresh-water related regional plans and policy statements

A collaborative planning process is proposed. While Whitewater NZ supports a collaborative planning process in principle, and we would cite the Land and Water Forum as a good example, there are problematic aspects.

We have experience in a number of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy processes. In our opinion, it is too early to believe that this process can create good outcomes for the community especially with respect to protecting recreational amenity.

There are issues regarding:

  • the composition of catchment zone committees that tend to be dominated by economic interests and people from within the zones, who have the wherewithal to sustain involvement over long periods, and who have limited interest in considering the values of others (eg, national amenity values, recreational users) from outside the zones,
  • the time commitment to such processes which restricts the quality of input in some cases, who can participate (people who are working full time can often not contribute unless their work permits them too), and which leaves anyone involved ‘overwhelmed’ and exhausted
  • lack of capacity or ability for some stakeholder groups to input meaningfully into numerous catchment committees,
  • insufficient detail about how collaborative planning process will take into account non­local stakeholders; recreational users are dispersed and mobile, they value rivers often far from where they live and work,
  • by performing collaborative processes based around single catchments, solutions to issues become dominated by the interests and the solutions from within those catchments rather than more holistic across regional planning which may result in better outcomes for the whole community (New Zealand Inc.). In Canterbury, for example, the Regional Committee, which might be expected to have an overarching role in all aspects of individual Zone Committee activities and wider community interests abrogated suchresponsibilities. It did not act on any submissions from recreational users on errors in its Draft Regional Implementation Plan, but proceeded with plans to support extensive infrastructure development for irrigation in Canterbury with no provision for recreation interests. This sort of ad hoc planning is clearly going to lead to marginalised groups in the community having no say in how ‘commons’ water within their communities will be able to be used nor provided for their needs.

Given that the collaborative process is “challenging and complex” and new to most councils, it is highly inappropriate to reduce the basis for appeals to the Environment Court [FW, p26]. There need to be strong checks and balances available, including appeal to the Environment Court, until the process is “settled in”.

What checks and balances exist to ensure comprehensive representation of stakeholders, and for redress if stakeholders are sidelined or left­out of the collaborative process?

The collaborative process assumes good faith but this cannot be assumed when significant economic gains stand to be made by certain stakeholders.

FW: Freshwater Reform 3: A National Objectives Framework

One of the reasons for dissatisfaction with RMA is the lack of guidance from central government on water quantity or quality, although some parties may not recognise this as such. When the RMA was introduced guidelines were supposed to be provided to regional councils on water quality limits on various contaminants to assist with protection of environmental values. Various governments have done nothing in this area and left individual regions to cope with these matters in whatever ways they think are appropriate. This laissez faire approach is largely responsible for the increasing problems with pollution from farming in various regions throughout the country, and the Environment Court making decisions (based on expert evidence presented to them) on what needs to be done about it when challenges have been made.

Although a National Objectives Framework sounds sensible we would be concerned that this is a return to a similar system of grading rivers throughout the country that has been used in the past by local communities prior to the adoption of the RMA. Then, some natural pristine rivers were given low classifications, so that they could be polluted (note, not all regions did this, however), and others that were polluted were also given such low classifications (e.g. D). The suggestion that applying similar classifications in todays environment will assist in improving the state of the nation’s waterways is highly questionable; it didn’t work then and it is unlikely to work in future. It was no doubt one reason why the OECD gave New Zealand a ‘must improve’ rating in the past (see Background ­ RMA above).

Furthermore, changing from monitoring the bottomline state of ecosystem health by reference to trout and salmon to ‘general protection for indigenous species’ (p 30 FW reform 2013 and beyond) is a highly questionable move because there is a paucity of information on what is needed to protect indigenous species whereas there is a large published literature on the impacts on trout and salmon. In addition, using nitrate toxicity or ammonia toxicity as parameters for measuring impacts or setting limits is probably unwise because at such levels, and where toxicity is known for some organisms (such as trout), a lot of other biota have probably been severely impacted upon and thus ecosystem health compromised. Setting nitrate concentrations at particular limits may be entirely appropriate in order to protect surface waters and groundwaters so that they do not become undrinkable.

In addition, we think it will be very challenging for the ‘community’ to have to go through the exercise of classifying all rivers throughout the country, when there is little technical expertise of the type required to do this in a consistent manner, little literature and information on the water quality in many reaches of waterways throughout the country, and where ‘communities’ can decide on whatever they like. This is a recipe for continuing problems in freshwater management and freshwater quality throughout the country.

FW: Freshwater Reform 4: Further national direction and guidance on setting freshwater objectives and limits

We strongly question whether the proposed reforms will have any impact on improving the state of our freshwater environment with further regulation and national guidance with the proposed National Objectives Framework as discussed above. If the National Objectives Framework is flawed to start with then continuing to work with it will not produce the desired environmental outcomes.

FW: Freshwater Reform 5: Improving the process for Water Conservation Orders

We strongly disagree with preventing changes to scope of an application for a water conservation order once consideration is underway. Our experience is that a better understanding of a waterbody often emerges during the WCO process so scope changes need to be allowed throughout the process in order to achieve a coherent and stable outcome.

FW: Freshwater Reform 7: Improving the efficiency of water use

Whitewater NZ agrees that where water takes are allowed, water is not wasted and bestpractices are required.

FW: Freshwater Reform 9: Science, research, knowledge and information

We agree that better information is required. For example, very little research into recreational water use has occurred to date, except for occasional investigations as part of a specific consent or WCO process.


  1. [1] 2007/08 Active NZ Survey, Sports NZ,­08­Active­NZ­Survey/Sport­and­Recreation­Profiles/CanoeingKayaking/
  2. [2] G D Egarr and J H Egarr, New Zealand Recreational River Survey, Part I Methods and Conclusions, Water and Soil Miscellaneous Publication no. 13, National Water and Soil Conservation Organisation, 1981.
  3. [3] Hydroelectricity or wild rivers: Climate change versus natural heritage (PDF, 5MB), May 2012, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment.
  4. [4] Assessment of Environmental Effects for Waimakariri River Water Take near Kowai River Confluence, June 2005, Central Plains Water Trust.
  5. [5] Public perceptions of New Zealand’s environment: 2010, 2010, K Hughey et al
  6. [6] Report of the Minister for the Environment’s Resource Management Act 1991 Principles Technical Advisory Group, February 20