Water Quality Rules (Plan Change 6A)

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Rural Water Quality

The Otago Water Plan Change 6A (water quality) was approved on 26 March 2014 and is now operative.

This plan change made provision for controlling contaminants and sediment coming off rural properties into waterways from runoff, leaching and drains (non-point sources).  The rules covering these areas aim to ensure good quality water in rivers, lakes, wetlands and aquifer. Water that is clear of muck and odour, safe to swim in, gather food from, and that supports healthy ecosystems. Landholders are responsible for choosing their own methods for managing contaminant discharge to waterways to meet the new limits in the Water Plan.

Request an information pack (which includes a guide to the rules and our practical water quality  factsheets) here.

Click this map below to view the 29 live flow data sites and water quality factsheets for the Otago Region.

Water Quality Map

Click here to view the summary guide to ORC water quality rules (5 MB)
Click here to view the Otago Water Plan Change 6A (8 MB)
Download operative Plan Change 6A Maps (6 MB)
Sampling water quality on your farm (1 MB)
OVERSEER Q and A (74 KB)

 

 

Questions and answers about the new 6A water quality rules

1.  INTRODUCTION

How do the new rules work?
What are prohibited activities?
Will I be directly affected by the new rules?
Where do the discharge rules apply?
What kinds of activity might lead to breaches of the rules?
What happens if my property doesn't meet the discharge thresholds by 2020?

2.  PERMITTED ACTIVITIES AND CONDITIONS

What are the permitted activity rules and conditions?
Discharges of water or contaminants
Sediment discharge to waterways
Discharges from water races
Discharges to and from small dams
Discharge to and from drains
Discharging nitrogen to land
The limits for nitrogen leaching

3.  CONSTRUCTION AND WORKING IN WATERWAYS

Construction work that disturbs the bed of a waterway
Building a single span bridge
Building a crossing
Can I drive stock through waterways?
Is any short term work permitted where the discharge conditions will not be met?

4.  CONTAMINANT DISCHARGE LIMITS AND THRESHOLDS

What are Schedule 15 limits? What are the Schedule 16 discharge thresholds?
Which contaminants have a discharge threshold?
When do I have to meet the Schedule 16 discharge thresholds?
How do I know if my discharges are within the thresholds?
What happens if my property does not meet the discharge thresholds by 2020

 

1.       INTRODUCTION

1.1     How do the rules work?

Plan Change 6A is an effects-based, permitted activity approach to managing contaminants which may affect the water quality of waterways. This means that in many areas where an activity has a minimal effect on a waterway, you will not need a resource consent as long as you meet certain conditions.

However, gross discharges and objectionable activities that degrade water quality are prohibited. Consent cannot be granted for such activities. Prohibited activity rules are not negotiable and apply now.

Water quality rules permit contaminant discharges including surface runoff, groundwater seepage, or discharges from drains and races provided that:

  • they comply with conditions controlling the effects of sediment runoff.
  • after 2020 they comply with the Otago Water Plan Schedule 16 thresholds set for nitrogen, phosphorus, and E. coli.
  • they comply with rules on nitrogen loss to groundwater as calculated using OVERSEER (Version 6).

Rules set conditions on stock access to rivers, lakes, and wetlands and make it easier to construct stock crossings and bridges.

Landholders can find out if and where non-point source contaminants from their land exceed the permitted activity conditions by measuring the quality of the water being discharged. The transitional period to 2020 allows time to change any management practices needed to comply with Schedule 16 discharge thresholds

1.2     What are the prohibited activities?

The following land activities affecting water quality are not permitted under any circumstances. No consent can be granted for them.

The prohibited activity rules apply now. ORC compliance staff will investigate breaches of these rules. If you breach any of them you will face enforcement action.

Rule 12.C.0.1  You can’t discharge any contaminant to water that produces a nasty odour, or an obvious oil or grease film, scum, or foam:

  • in a lake, river, or Regionally Significant Wetland;
  • in a drain or water race that goes to a lake, river, a Regionally Significant Wetland, or to the coast;
  • in any bore, soakhole or effluent pond which is not sealed.

Rule 12.C.0.2  You can’t discharge any contaminant from an effluent pond or any other animal waste collection or storage system, silage pit, or composting to:

  • any lake, river, or Regionally Significant Wetland including their bed, or a drain or water race that goes to them or coastal waters;
  • any bore, soakhole, or effluent pond which is not sealed;
  • land within 50 metres of any of any lake, river, or Regionally Significant Wetland, bore or soakhole;
  • saturated land, or other land if it results in ponding;
  • land, if it results in an overland flow to a lake, river, Regionally Significant Wetland, or coastal waters, or to a drain or water race that goes to them.

Rule 12.C.0.3  You can’t discharge sediment from disturbed land to water in any lake, river, or Regionally Significant Wetland, or to any drain or water race that flows to them or to coastal waters if nothing has been done to control sediment runoff.

1.3     Will I be directly affected by the new rules?

Yes, if you undertake land-based activities (e.g. agriculture, forestry, horticulture, viticulture, small block farming or earthworks), which may result in contaminants entering rivers, lakes, wetlands, or aquifers; or if you discharge water into water (e.g. from a dam or irrigation scheme into a river).

The Water Plan water quality rules apply to any activity which may result in contaminants being discharged to a river, lake, Regionally Significant Wetland, or coastal water.

1.4     Where do the discharge rules apply?

The rules, including contaminant thresholds, apply to discharges affecting the quality of water in Otago waterways.  The rules are all applicable to the whole of Otago. Some permitted activity conditions may apply in a particular area and not in another. Refer to the Water Plan for detail on where and when specific rules and conditions apply. Taken together, the rules cover discharges to:

  • a river, lake, and wetland
  • a drain or race that flows to a river, lake, wetland or to coastal water
  • groundwater via a bore or soak hole
  • groundwater from leaching
  • land where contaminants enter any of the waterways above.

The rules operate in different ways. Permitted activity rules describe activities that subject to conditions do not require a resource consent, whereas prohibited activity rules describe gross activities which are not permitted under any circumstances.

1.5     What kinds of activity might lead to breaches of the rules?

Common land management practices that can cause contamination of waterways and breach the sediment rules and discharge thresholds include:

  • work that exposes soil, such as tree harvesting, site development earthworks, ploughing, or using sacrificial or fallow paddocks. Such activities are prohibited where no measures have been taken to control sediment discharge.
  • stock grazing close to or directly accessing a river;
  • effluent which when spread over saturated soils has a high risk of making its way to waterways or groundwater;
  • tile and mole drains emptying into waterways’
  • irrigation water running off into waterways.

1.6     What happens if my property does not meet the discharge thresholds by 2020?

Review your land management practices. You may be able to modify your operations so your water quality meets the discharge thresholds. Contact the ORC community liaison team on 0800 474082 for assistance.

You can apply for a short-term resource consent allowing you more time to make further changes on your property so your water quality meets the discharge thresholds and/or the nitrogen leaching limits. Longer consent periods can be sought. However, these applications are likely to be publicly notified.

 

2.     PERMITTED ACTIVITIES AND CONDITIONS

2.1     What are the permitted activities (Rule 12.C.1.1)

Activities that may affect waterways that are permitted (no consent is needed) subject to certain conditions being met. Rule 12.C.1.1. These include: 

2.1.1     Discharges of water or contaminants

You can discharge water or contaminants to water, or onto land where it may enter water, as long as it does not:

  • create erosion, land instability, flooding, or property damage;
  • discharge water into water in another catchment;
  • change the water level range of a Regionally Significant Wetland.

Where the discharge first enters any lake, river, wetland, or coastal waters, it must not: 

  • have an odour, scum, or foam, floatable or suspended organic material, or an oil or grease film; or result in a conspicuous change in colour or visual clarity, or local sedimentation.

From 2020, the discharge must be within Schedule 16 thresholds to be permitted.

Download Schedule 16 compliance point guidance diagrams (470 KB)

2.1.2     Sediment discharge to waterways

Sediment discharges should not result in a conspicuous change to colour or visual clarity, nor noticeable local sedimentation, in the receiving water. That means you should not be able to see a dirty plume in the river at any time. This rule applies now.

Work that exposes soil, such as tree harvesting, site development earthworks, ploughing, or using sacrificial or fallow paddocks, can result in sediment loss to waterways. Discharge from such activities is prohibited where no measures have been taken to control sediment.

2.1.3     Discharges from water races

As an operator, you can discharge water or contaminant from your water race, to a lake, river, wetland or coastal water, provided the water race operation does not add contaminant to the water, and the discharge does not:

  • create erosion, land instability, flooding or property damage;
  • discharge to another catchment;
  • change the water level range of a Regionally Significant Wetland;
  • result in a conspicuous change in water colour or clarity, or contain floatable or suspended materials, or bring about a noticeable increase in local sedimentation in the water race.

Until 2020, when the conditions above must be met, the Schedule 16 thresholds do not apply to the discharge.

After 2020, the discharge of contaminant into a race has to meet the Schedule 16 thresholds to be permitted.

Inter-catchment transfers require a consent regardless of whether or not they meet the discharge thresholds.

Race operators can also nominate the discharge to the river as their compliance point (as groups of landowners can do on drains).

Rules for discharges entering water and races include some variants. For more information refer to Water Plan rules 12.C.1.1(e) and (f), or contact ORC community liaison and education staff.

2.1.4     Discharges from small dams

These are permitted provided the operation of the dam has not added contaminants to the discharge water.

The contaminant discharge thresholds and other conditions apply if the dam operation has added contaminant to the water, causes a change in colour or clarity, or causes floatable or suspended materials to be present.

2.1.5     Discharges to and from drains

Discharges from drains to a river, lake or wetland, or coastal water are subject to the same conditions as any other discharge.

Discharges to a drain that go to a lake, river, wetland, or coastal waters are permitted provided the discharge does not:

  • have an odour, oil or grease film scum, or foam;
  • result in a conspicuous change in colour or visual clarity, or a noticeable increase in local sedimentation in the waterway;
  • produce conspicuous floatable or organic material at the bottom of the property or in a waterway, whichever comes first.

From 2020, drains must comply with Schedule 16 thresholds where the drain leaves a property, or immediately before the drain enters a river, lake, wetland, or coastal water, whichever point comes first.

Where drains travel across several properties, compliance with the thresholds will be determined by sampling where the drain exits property.

Landowners can opt to share responsibility for discharge from a drain. In that case, discharges to the drain are permitted providing the discharge from the drain to a river, lake, wetland, or coastal water complies with the Schedule 16 thresholds.

This means farmers will need to measure volume upstream and downstream as well as concentrations of N, P, and E.coli.

2.1.6     Discharging nitrogen to land

From 1 April 2020, all nitrogen discharges to groundwater must be within the relevant leaching rate you calculate for your landholding using OVERSEER 6.

From 2014, you should keep a record of fertiliser use and farm activities so that nitrogen loss can be calculated using OVERSEER 6. You must provide this data as an output report to council upon request.

Farmers producing outdoor pork, fruit, (excluding grapes), berries, and rotational vegetable crops won’t have to supply council with OVERSEER data between 2014 and 2020.

However, they must keep a record of all nitrogen inputs on their land, and follow industry best management practices.

2.1.7     The limits for nitrogen leaching

There are three defined nitrogen sensitive zones for Otago. The following load limits are in place to protect lake catchments and sensitive aquifers:

  • large lake catchments have a 15 kgN per ha per year limit
  • sensitive aquifers have a 20 kgN per ha per year limit
  • the rest of Otago has a 30 kgN per ha per year limit.

Nitrogen discharge to groundwater is calculated as an average annual nitrogen load using OVERSEER 6.

OVERSEER loads are calculated across all those parts of your landholding which are located in the same nitrogen sensitive zone.

The nitrogen leaching limit must be met from 1 April 2020. From 2014, records to calculate nitrogen loss must be made available upon ORC request.

See maps below for nitrogen leaching zones:

Kakanui Kauru Aquifer (2 MB)
Shag Alluvium Aquifer (2 MB)

Wakatipu Basin Aquifer (2 MB)

Roxburgh and Ettrick Aquifers (2 MB)

Lakes Area (Wanaka) (2 MB)

Lakes Area (Queenstown) (2 MB)

 

3.     WORKING IN WATERWAYS

3.1     Construction work that disturbs the bed of a waterway (Rule 13.5.1.1)

Any activity that involves disturbance to the bed of any river, lake, or Regionally Significant Wetland is permitted, provided the structure is legal and:

  • the Department of Conservation and Fish and Game are notified in advance if work is carried out between 1 May and 30 September;
  • the disturbance does not cause any flooding or erosion;
  • the disturbance is limited to the extent needed to carry out the work;
  • the time of  the work within the wetted bed does not exceed 10 hours;
  • reasonable steps are taken to minimise the release of sediment to the waterway;
  • there is no conspicuous plume or change in colour or visual clarity beyond 200 metres downstream of the disturbance;
  • there is no damage to fauna or native flora in or on a Regionally Significant Wetland;
  • there is no change in water levels and the site is left tidy upon completion of the work and,
  • no take of water is adversely affected.

3.2     Building a single span bridge

Provided you meet the bed disturbance rules above, you can build a single span bridge or a stock crossing as long as:

  • it doesn’t cause flooding or impede flood flows; does not impede the movement of bed material; and is secure against bed erosion, floodwaters, and debris;
  • it doesn’t cause erosion of the bed or banks of a lake, river, or Regionally Significant Wetland, or property damage;
  • measures are included that avoid animal waste entering water from the structure;
  • any public access is maintained and it complies with the rules below.
  • there can be no more than 20 metres of crossing over any 250 metre stretch of any lake or river;
  • the bridge soffit cannot be lower than the top of the higher river bank

3.3     Building a crossing

You can install a culvert in any sized catchment without a consent, if the top of the crossing is no higher than 2m above the lowest part of the bed where it is located.

Crossings higher than 2m can be constructed in small catchments (less than 50ha) provided the top of the crossing is no higher than 3.5 metres and there is a minimum culvert diameter of 1.2 metres (or equivalent cross-section area) and

  • there must be no more than 24 metres of crossing over any 250 metre stretch of river or lake, and there must be a minimum of 12 metres between each crossing.
  • all crossings must provide fish passage if fish passage was possible before the crossing was built.

3.4     Can I drive stock through waterways? (Rule 13.2.1.7B)

You can drive stock through any lake, river or Regionally Significant Wetland if:

  • there is no existing structure to use;
  • there is no visual change in colour or clarity of the water after they have crossed;
  • there is no resulting slumping, pugging, or erosion.

3.5     Is any short term work permitted where the discharge conditions will not be met?

No. Discharges from short-term activities, with short-term adverse effects, breach the permitted activity rules. A restricted discretionary activity resource consent may be provided, with or without conditions, for a maximum of two years.

Call our Community Liaison and Education Team on 0800 474 082 for more information.

 

4.     LIMITS, TARGETS, AND THRESHOLDS

4.1     What are schedule 15 limits thresholds?

Schedule 15 of the Otago Water Plan describes and sets out the characteristics, contaminant concentration limits, and targets for good quality surface water in Otago rivers and lakes, as required by the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

Download Schedule 15 (58 KB)

4.2     What are the Schedule 16 discharge thresholds?

Schedule 16 thresholds set the maximum concentration of contaminants that can come off any property, or from drains and irrigation races, and pass into waterways, without a consent.

The thresholds come into effect from April 2020 and only apply when your representative flow site is at or below median flow.

The sediment rules apply now.

We suggest you do some sampling now to find out the quality of the water coming off your property. See the Schedule 16 threshold tables below 

Download Schedule 16 (217 KB)

View median flow levels and local flow conditions at www.orc.govt.nz/WaterInfo

4.3     Which contaminants have a discharge threshold?

Schedule 16 sets thresholds for Escherichia coli (E.coli), dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP), nitrate nitrite nitrogen (NNN), and ammoniacal nitrogen (NH4).

4.4     When do I have to meet the discharge Schedule 16 thresholds?

You have until 2020 to meet the thresholds and the nitrogen leaching limits for groundwater. If you don’t meet the thresholds in 2020 you can apply for a consent.  However, it is expected that you will in time comply with the thresholds.

The sediment rules apply now.

4.5     How do I know if my discharges are within the thresholds?

Take water quality samples when your representative flow site is at or under its median flow (see ORC Waterinfo website) and have them tested for E.coli, NNN, DRP, and Ammoniacal Nitrogen.

Compare your test results with the threshold numbers in Schedule 16. Keep your sample results for reference.

4.6     What happens if my property does not meet the discharge thresholds by 2020?

Review your land management practices. You may be able to modify your operations so your water quality meets the discharge thresholds. Contact the ORC community liaison team on 0800 474082 for assistance.

You can apply for a short-term resource consent allowing you more time to make further changes on your property so your water quality meets the discharge thresholds and/or the nitrogen leaching limits. Longer consent periods can be sought. However, these applications are likely to be publicly notified.

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