Forum recommendations threaten Otago water management

Friday, 26 November 2010

The Otago Regional Council (ORC) is concerned that a Government push for oversight of all water management would undermine the effective work already being done at a regional level by ORC and many of Otago’s rural communities.

The 56-member Land and Water Forum (LAWF) released a report on September 22 containing 53 recommendations for the future of freshwater management in New Zealand.

The forum was established by Environment Minister Nick Smith and Agriculture Minister David Carter, but its recommendations are not binding on the Government.

ORC director of policy and resource planning Fraser McRae said many of the outcomes the forum’s recommendations sought to achieve were already evident in the Otago region, operating through the Regional Water Plan.

The ORC had also recently launched its 2010 Rural Water Quality Strategy which would address the difficult issues inherent in non-point source discharge – contaminants from run-off, leaching and drains.

Mr McRae said the LAWF report appeared to assume - incorrectly¬ ¬- that water could be regulated at a national level. However, in water-short areas of Otago, local knowledge and unique systems had promoted the development of water management among large-scale users.

ORC policy and submissions committee chairman Cr Michael Deaker said the council had been working closely with its communities for years to develop the Otago water plan. The plan contained provisions for permitted activities, within stringent environmental limits, that reduced the need for expensive resource consents.

“This practical and collaborative approach has served farmers, their local communities, and the regional economy very well for many years,” Cr Deaker said.

The forum was promoting a collaborative approach to land and water management, but this ran counter to the consultative process enshrined in the Resource Management Act (RMA), under which councils are responsible for preparing statements and plans.

A proposed National Policy Statement for water management would materially reduce the allocated available water for much of Otago, Mr McRae said.

The report suggested changes to water allocation in over-allocated catchments which would lead in Otago to less efficient resource management because flexibility, that currently exists in Otago, around taking of water when there is uncertain supply would be lost.

ORC currently operates a system of permitted activity rules for activities needing water, such as dairy farming, which would be undermined if a National Policy Statement was introduced.

This is because the proposed NPS requires resource consent for any change in activity which involves an effect on the volume or quality of water.

Mr McRae said this would effectively trump the permitted activity rules and impose a more prescriptive regime on farmers.

These and other changes proposed by the Forum would also impose higher costs on Otago land users because the Regional Water Plan would have to be changed more frequently to accommodate them.

ORC will formally express its concern about the Forum’s report to Dr Smith and Mr Carter, and to local MPs.

For more information contact
Fraser McRae
Director policy and resource planning
Ph 03 4740827 or 0274 900903

Cr Michael Deaker
Chairman policy and submissions committee
Ph 021 323 009

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