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Fifty freshwater experts and leaders urge Christopher Luxon not to make a ‘terrible mistake’ on clean drinking water and healthy rivers

Fifty freshwater experts and leaders from around the country have sent an open letter to Prime Minister Luxon urging him and his new coalition government not to touch the country’s national freshwater policy.

This comes after the Government announced on Thursday that “Cabinet has agreed to replace the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020.” The letter calls on the Government to retain the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020 and its central decision-making framework, known as Te Mana o te Wai.

The letter reads:

“New Zealand’s rivers, lakes and aquifers are in a dire state. If you proceed with your proposals to undo the country’s freshwater policy, they will only get worse…”

“We call on you to listen to the wider community – not only the minority of voices who have asked you to undo the progress the country has made towards cleaner drinking water and healthier waterways. To remove, replace or rewrite our country’s national freshwater policy at this time, so soon after it has been brought in, would be a terrible mistake.”

The letter is signed by 50 prominent experts in freshwater from public health, ecology, business, planning and other disciplines together with iwi, hapū and Māori leaders and regional community leaders engaged in freshwater issues. The signatories come from around the country from Southland to Northland and many are directly involved in restoration efforts in their region.

The letter is addressed to the new Prime Minister, Minister for the Environment Penny Simmons, Minister for Agriculture Todd McClay, and Minister for Resource Management Chris Bishop. Signatory Dr Mahina-a-rangi Baker, a Māori environmental planner and Co-Chair of her local Kāpiti Freshwater Planning Committee , says, “Since its elevation as the fundamental concept in freshwater planning, Te Mana o te Wai has been providing clear direction and certainty for communities and economies. It directs a common-sense approach, to ensure the health of water and universal access to drinking water is protected for future generations, before other consumptive uses.”

“Te Mana o te Wai has also rightly directed more appropriate levels of involvement of Māori in decision-making. This government’s intention to diminish the Māori voice, will ultimately diminish the quality of decision-making about freshwater.”

Dr Mike Joy, another signatory and organiser of the letter says, “The progress made to date on national policies for freshwater while still inadequate are a major improvement on what we had and are a major progression to where most New Zealanders want us to be.”

“This freshwater policy has involved a huge amount of work, collaboration and expenditure and losing all that would be a huge backward step. “There is a very real link between freshwater protection and reducing GHG emissions and climate resilience, many win-win gains that risk being lost if we go backwards on freshwater protection,” Dr Joy says.

Another signatory, Professor Michael Baker, says, “Safe fresh water for drinking and recreational use is a fundamental building block of public health. It is just seven years since New Zealand had the world’s largest documented drinking water outbreak of campylobacter infection in Havelock North. The subsequent inquiry concluded that protecting source water “provides the first, and most significant, barrier against drinking water contamination and illness”.

This was a huge wake up call for New Zealand. It would be a tragic mistake if we failed to learn from this disaster and went backwards on protecting our freshwater.” The letter says:

“The public has been calling on central government to provide stronger protection for water and to drive the restoration of rivers, lakes, and other waterbodies for decades. History tells us concern and pressure from the public will only increase.” “Please, take the country forward and provide the leadership needed to achieve healthy water for us all.”


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