Land and Water Forum
08 Jun 2012
In this Q&A we answer some questions about the implications of the May 2012 Land and Water Forum Report for those investing or involved in irrigation infrastructure.
What does the May 2012 Report of the Land and Water Forum mean for those involved in irrigation infrastructure?
The May 2012 Report of the Land and Water Forum (Report) is influential as it comes out of widespread consultation and agreement amongst water stakeholders and is the main policy input on the future approach to freshwater management for the Government. The Report focusses on how objectives and limits for freshwater management should be set, and on the decision-making processes required.
Those looking to invest, or be involved in irrigation infrastructure, are interested in certainty as the fundamental for financing and planning. While the Report contains themes that indicate certainty is coming (by way of limits), the mechanisms for achieving this are for a later report to be released in September.
The Report calls for more specific detail and quantified limits relating to freshwater where possible, with appropriate contingencies to be built into the way land and water are managed. As a corollary, limits are to be enforced in a transparent and predictable way.
The Report contains detailed recommendations on how to set the objectives and limits, and on the collaborative decision-making process, which we discuss in our accompanying FYI.
Will water rights be transferable?
The Report suggests limits work best with mechanisms for transferability but these mechanisms will be the subject of the next report in September. This key aspect of the picture is awaited with great interest by those wanting to make progress on irrigation infrastructure projects.
Combining limits with the ability to transfer both take rights and contaminant loads is seen as one way of encouraging innovation and use of good management practices. It also provides space for new entrants and new activities.
At the same time the Report recognises the risk of a "gold rush" to grab resources before the new limits regime is imposed - and suggests ways that this risk can be addressed. More on this will be included in the September report.
How will land and water rights be shared in the future?
A key theme of the Report is the recommendation that current RMA processes be replaced with a collaborative approach amongst stakeholders, leading to longer term solutions that are more resilient and adaptive to change. The view expressed is that the collaborative approach should be faster and more efficient over time.To facilitate this it will need to be subject to firm timeframes and consequences.
And did the Budget contain anything for irrigation?
Disappointingly to this sector, the Budget did not expressly allocate funds to irrigation investment as previously indicated in National Party manifestos. Finance Minister Bill English has indicated support for the expansion of irrigation opportunities, at least in Canterbury, by making changes to water rules without degrading the environment. The Irrigation Acceleration Fund established under the 2011 Budget also remains open to support the development of irrigation infrastructure proposals.