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New Zealand deserves far better water management. Scores of newspaper articles and rigorous reports lay out the problems in the current system. Too much water is being drawn in some catchments – to the detriment of aquifers and rivers. Management of contaminants flowing into the rivers is haphazard and too-often poor. While agricultural runoff into rivers and streams has drawn much attention, urban areas are far from blameless.

The Land and Water Forum’s most recent advice to Ministers summarised the problem well. Minister for the Environment David Parker in October 2018 committed the government to a two-year agenda for creating an improved freshwater management system.

Improving water management is both good policy and politically necessary. The costs of achieving desirable environmental standards will rise if water quality is allowed to continue to degrade. Not only will the real environmental problem become more costly to solve, but the most effective policy options may also become more difficult to implement. Reactive, costly, and less effective policy will be more likely the longer we wait.

This first report of a two-part series does not seek to re-tread ground already well covered elsewhere. We here instead explore a promising option for ensuring environmental sustainability that respects Te Mana o Te Wai and the economic needs of our communities. We also believe it to be the best way for the government to achieve its objectives in stopping further degradation and loss, and reversing past damage.

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