It has always been recognised as one of the world’s most precious commodities. It has been described by eminent scientists and others as the most pressing resource issue of our age. New Zealand has an abundance of it, most of the time. Therefore, it is only right that we are now as a nation having a proper debate about it, and how we best manage it, writes TIA Chief Executive Chris Roberts.
I am of course talking about water – what Leonardo da Vinci described as the driving force of all nature. Or as the Maori proverb says: Ko au te awa, Ko te awa ko au (I am the river and the river is me).
Water is featuring strongly in this year’s general election campaign. The National Government has announced the allocation of $44m to clean up 100 New Zealand rivers and lakes. “Great Water” is one of the Green Party’s three election planks. Labour is proposing a royalty on the commercial use of water. New Zealand First wants a royalty on all exported bottled water.
Putting aside politics and the posturing that inevitably comes with it, the good news is the issue of protecting and managing our water resources is now firmly on the political agenda.
The tourism industry cannot afford to stand to one side as this debate develops.
We have a direct interest. Clean, fresh water is essential to many of our most iconic adventure tourism activities, including rafting, kayaking, jet boating and fishing. TIA is a long-term member of the Land & Water Forum and has continually highlighted the importance of high quality fresh water for our industry.
New Zealand’s natural environment is our most important tourism product. It is the main reason why international visitors come here, it is important to domestic travel and it supports thousands of tourism businesses. Healthy freshwater ecosystems are fundamental to supporting our natural landscapes.
TIA’s Tourism Election Manifesto, Tourism for Tomorrow, calls on the Incoming Government to demonstrate a serious commitment to protecting the environment, recognising its importance to tourism. This includes a commitment to enhancing New Zealand’s fresh water resources.
Some steps have been taken recently but, along with other members of the Land & Water Forum, TIA is not convinced they go far enough.
We think the swimmability target in the new fresh water standards is insufficient. Fresh water management should not only be on swimmability, but on a broader range of measures, such as drinkability, extractions for agricultural, industrial and urban uses, and ecological and aesthetic considerations.
After the election, we would like to see the fresh water standards revised, including a better reflection of the importance of tourism to New Zealand. TIA wants to be part of any future consultation to improve the fresh water policy and quality improvement programme.
The Government must recognise fresh water as an essential platform for the growth and sustainability of the tourism economy, aligned with New Zealand values of fishing, swimming and mahinga kai (food gathering).
As Kiwis, we also have a personal stake in ensuring water quality. Our country needs a clear vision and a long-term strategy for management of fresh water that reflects the values we hold as New Zealanders.
Safe, clean, fresh water goes to the heart of kaitiakitanga – guardianship of the environment, a principle that both reflects what it means to be a New Zealander and underpins New Zealand tourism’s offering to the world.
All New Zealanders, including us in the tourism industry, have an active role to play in ensuring we leave the environment in a better state for future generations of Kiwis and visitors.
This column was first published in Tourism Ticker, 14 August 2017.