Environment Minister Brian Kenny is defending his department's attempt to develop a new water strategy amid complaints from environmental groups that the process is a sham.

Kenny told Information Morning Fredericton on Thursday his department is eager to sit down with citizens, watershed groups and municipalities on a long-term plan to protect the province's water.

He said these consultations will lead to a framework that will end a long-standing controversy over the water classification system.

"I do believe this year is one step forward to be able to enhance our great water that we have in our province," he said.

"I do believe there are going to be people no matter what we do as a government that will have criticisms, that is fine, we can take that criticism, and I am open to be able to meet with these people."

The Department of Environment released a discussion document earlier this month that called for input to create a comprehensive approach to managing surface and groundwater resources.

That public consultation process was derided this week by a group of conservationists, including the Council of Canadians, Green Party Leader David Coon, First Nations and other watershed groups.

Coon called for the Gallant government to stop rushing the water strategy hearings and instead to set up a legislative committee to develop a new plan.

Nashwaak River

Conservation groups are angered that the Liberal government's new water strategy process is being rushed through without adequate involvement of the public.

Kenny refused to respond directly to the specific concerns raised by the critics on Thursday.

The environment minister attempted to steer the conversation back to his interest in the public hearings and to dismiss opponents by saying "some people" will criticize the government "no matter what we do here."

"We are looking at develop an all-encompassing water strategy that is going to protect and manage all our water into the future," he said.

The water classification system has been a thorn in the side of successive governments.

The water classification regulation was adopted in 2002. Since that regulation came into force, 19 watershed associations have requested their watersheds be officially classified and protected.

Despite the interest, no watersheds have been approved for classification in 14 years.

In 2008, the provincial government attempted to fix a legal issue with the water classification regulation.

That didn't solve the issue, however.

The Department of Environment and Local Government has said this week that fixing the regulation "would equate to an entire rewrite of that part of the legislation."

with files from Information Morning Fredericton