Table of Contents

Water and the Law

Water and the Law

Towards Sustainability

The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series

Edited by Michael Kidd, Loretta Feris, Tumai Murombo and Alejandro Iza

Water and the Law examines the critical relationship between law and the management of water resources in the context of ensuring environmental sustainability. It highlights the central importance of integrated water resources management and cooperation in achieving sustainability. The book considers two broad themes: how law can contribute to the sustainability of water itself and how the law’s regulation of water can contribute to the sustainability of life – both human life as well as that of other species in their natural environment.

Chapter 7: Sustainability, governance and water management in New Zealand

Trevor Daya-Winterbottom

Subjects: environment, environmental governance and regulation, environmental law, water, law - academic, environmental law, water law


New Zealand is a ‘pluvial society’. The common perception before 1997 was that there were no serious issues regarding freshwater in New Zealand compared with other jurisdictions, notwithstanding the fact that irrigation had doubled to 500,000ha during the period 1985 to 1997. However, freshwater allocation was set to become a significant issue in the future. By 2003 problems in the Waitaki catchment of the South Island had brought matters sharply into focus as competition between productive users became fierce and increasingly litigious, and problems were occuring regarding allocation between competing irrigation applications, and between irrigation and hydro electric power schemes. Subsequently, freshwater allocation has been subject to legislative amendments and litigation before the Supreme Court, and new planning documents at both national and regional level are being developed to guide decision making. Demand for freshwater use has continued to grow ‘to the point [in many areas] where shortages occur because the spatial and temporal patterns of supply do not match demand patterns’, and it is expected that ‘the majority of the catchments that support New Zealand’s main population centres and agricultural production … [will] be fully allocated by 2012’. The purpose of this chapter is to review the law on restrictions relating to freshwater under the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). The chapter will focus on the taking and use of water, and current proposals for reform of the water management regime under the RMA. The RMA came into force on 1 October 1991.

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