Otago farmers preparing resource consent applications can look forward to now working under one set of provisions, instead of two - designed to further protect freshwater quality across the province through good farming practices.
The Otago Regional Council last week ratified changes to the operative Regional Plan: Water for Otago, which now allows some key parts of proposed “Plan change 8” (PC8) that relate to rural discharges to become operative, from tomorrow, 4 June.
ORC’s General Manager Policy and Science Anita Dawe says the PC8 rules which set minimum standards for animal effluent storage and application, intensive grazing, and the establishment of small in-stream sediment traps apply now.
However, she says in some cases farmers’ consents for existing animal effluent storage may not be required until a later date.
“We strongly encourage farmers to contact the ORC about those dates” Ms Dawe says.
Primary sector provisions
The PC8’s primary sector provisions - to counter adverse water quality effects of rural land - cover rural discharges, animal effluent application and storage, intensive grazing, stock access to water and sediment traps.
The new provisions include rules that set minimum standards for animal effluent storage and application to land, for intensive grazing, for the establishment of small in-stream sediment traps, plus an amended rule for stock access to water bodies.
Environment Court decision awaited on urban sector
The balance of PC8 will affect urban developers and operators of reticulated storm and wastewater systems.
The key provisions for urban land uses are aimed at reducing any adverse water quality effects, including for the management of sediment loss from earthworks for residential development.
Because the Environment Court is yet to release its decision on the parts of the plan change which cover the urban activities, it is unknown when those provisions will become operative.
New Land and Water Regional Plan by December 2025
PC8 is part of a transition toward a new freshwater management framework, being set into the ORC’s new Land and Water Regional Plan, the latter intended to be operative by December 2025, Ms Dawe says.
“The development of the Land and Water Regional Plan is a longer process, and to avoid any further environmental degradation in the meantime, ORC commenced a series of plan changes to address known deficiencies with its current planning framework,” she says.
Collectively, these plan changes would result in a strengthened interim management regime for freshwater in Otago; with one of the changes being Plan Change 8.
“This Plan Change 8 proposed to make a range of amendments to the current water plan provisions to better manage specific urban and rural activities, known to be contributing to water quality issues in parts of Otago,” Ms Dawe says.
Successful collaboration and mediation
ORC chair Andrew Noone acknowledged the collaboration, goodwill and participation of all the parties involved with the Environment Court process for the rural provisions, including successful mediation, and 15 parties presenting evidence for ORC in the Environment Court.
“Everyone helped with moving the rural provisions of Plan Change 8 toward being consistent with National Policy, achieving greater environmental outcomes and in being practical to implement and regulate.”
With ORC councillors last week approving Plan Change 8 -Rural Discharges, it moves another step towards a more fit for purpose and comprehensive planning framework, he says.
“These provisions are a very important part of the planning framework that will make up an Operative Land and Water Regional Plan by 2025,” Mr Noone says.
Replacing the current Water Plan and Waste Plan
Ms Dawe says that in December 2019 the ORC committed to the development of a new Land and Water Regional Plan, which would replace some of the provisions in the Water Plan and Waste Plan.
“The rural provisions of Plan Change 8 are the first step towards ensuring compliance with relevant standards,” she says.
PC8’s key provisions are to further reduce adverse water quality effects, by promoting good farming practices and for use as a guide to decision making on consent applications.
In effect since July 2020
Dawe says that for farmers the rules proposed under PC8 shouldn’t come as a surprise, as they already started to have legal effect from the day the plan change was publicly notified in July 2020.
At that point, land holders were required to consider the provisions; the objectives, policies and rules, in the existing plan and the rules proposed under PC8, but from tomorrow farmers only have to consider one set of rules - PC8.
PC8 included primary sector provisions concerning farmers and urban sector provisions for land developers and operators of reticulated storm and wastewater systems.
Ms Dawe says the PC8 policies and rules for rural activities are only a little different from those notified nearly two years ago and were the result of mediation between the different appeal parties.
The changes agreed through mediation were to clarify the provisions, improve their practical implementation and, for some, to avoid overlap or inconsistency with the national environmental standards for intensive winter grazing and stock access to water, Ms Dawe says.
Background to PC8 becoming operative
PC8 was part of a larger proposed Plan Change, called the Omnibus Plan Change, which was “called in’’ for fast-tracking by Minister for the Environment David Parker in April 2020 and was referred to the Environment Court.
The Court then heard Plan Change 8 as two separate matters – with one being the primary sector topics, and the second the urban topics - with separate mediation and hearings. The Omnibus Plan Change included Plan Change 8 to the Water Plan and Plan Change 1 to the Regional Plan: Waste.
The Environment Court primary sector hearing was in November 2021, with 15 witnesses appearing in support of PC8.
The Environment Court issued its decision and approved the proposed changes in its January 2022 decision. There were no appeals against the decision.
Because there were no appeals, the ORC was able update its Water Plan with these new provisions, which become operative Saturday 4 June 2022.
Further PC8 information will be available here. If people have questions about the rules and resource consents they should contact email@example.com for more information.