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Managing the Environmental Effects of Agriculture under the Resource Management Act: Non-point Source Discharges

  • Year: 2006
  • Author: Drummond, Lucie
  • Journal Name: New Zealand Journal of Environmental Law
  • Journal Number: 10
  • Country: New Zealand

The intensification of agriculture, in particular pastoral farming, has led the way in the demise of water quality in New Zealand. Much of this pollution is due to the non-point source discharge of nutrients into our waterways. This environmental damage has been noticed for over 50 years, yet the cause of the problem has remained under relatively voluntary management. Agriculture has now been identified as one of the greatest causes of environmental pressure to freshwater quality. Current management is ineffective and is doing little to fix an escalating problem. Freshwater quality is currently managed by regional councils under the Resource Management Act 1991. Within the Act there is provision for central government to have a role in freshwater management through the setting of national targets. To date there are no national standards set and regional councils can be seen to take a wide range of approaches to managing the issue. Under the Resource Management Act 1991 councils have the ability to regulate non-point source discharges through land-use controls or discharge permits. A survey of some regional councils conducted for this paper revealed that most councils currently advocate a voluntary approach. However, where regulation does appear it is through land-use controls applied to specified areas within the region. The nitrates directive was signed by the Commission of European Communities in 1991. In recent years most European countries have taken action under this directive to identify nitrogen-sensitive areas and create action programmes for these areas. In New Zealand there has also been research conducted on agriculture's role in non-point source discharges. In the past 10 to 15 years several studies have been conducted by central government agencies, councils, industry groups and environmental organisations. The result of these studies is a body of knowledge and tools that can now be used to improve the management of non-point source discharges and the quality of fresh water. These changes to management can be made within the current legislative structure through enforcing current provisions and creating stronger land-use controls. If a discharge permit approach was preferred this could require additions to the Resource Management Act 1991.

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