In the last three years, issues of declining water quality and over-allocation of freshwater have surged in importance both inside and outside of government. Eighty-two percent of New Zealanders now say they are extremely or very concerned about the state of New Zealand’s waterways.
The unease of voters and policy-makers is well founded. According to government data, 60 percent of New Zealand’s rivers and lakes are now unswimmable, and most regions have at least one river or aquifer that is either fully or over-allocated, or likely to become so in the next one to five years. This directly undermines New Zealand’s claim to be “100% pure.” Further pressures on our water resources will be driven by economic development, population growth, and climate change. Decisions on freshwater policy will have flow-on effects for urban and rural development, biodiversity conservation, and renewable energy production.
So what is to be done? Although technology may offer some opportunities to address issues of declining water quality and over-allocation, it is the human component of water management that is likely to determine the relative security of New Zealand’s water future. To conserve our freshwater resources, we must engage experimentation, innovation, information sharing, dialogue, and collaboration across sectors and stakeholders to increase the likelihood that New Zealand delivers freshwater policy that improves the wellbeing of all New Zealanders.
Motu Economic and Public Policy Research is launching a new freshwater management work programme. It will apply rigorous research and stakeholder dialogue to develop practical, evidence-based economics and policy solutions to freshwater management challenges in New Zealand. Currently New Zealand suffers from significant knowledge gaps regarding how communities benefit from, depend on, use and affect our freshwater environment, and how freshwater management can be optimised through the design of economic and policy instruments.
The long-term outcome from our work will be strategic and sustainable freshwater management underpinned by an integrated policy framework that is dynamic, intergenerational, and grounded in evidence. We know that achieving this is possible, but there is no “quick-fix.” Instead priority must be given to conducting robust research, socialising the results, and ensuring that we build technical, institutional, and social capacity in freshwater economics and policy in New Zealand. The multi-year work programme will be implemented in stages and deliver specific outputs at each stage. For more about our freshwater work programme please download this brochure.