Media release

Meetings herald “key changes” to environmental protections for Otago

Friday 8 September 2023

Communities across Otago are being encouraged to participate in the drafting of ORC’s new Land and Water Regional Plan – with the first of 12 community focussed meetings starting mid next month.

ORC’s Manager Policy and Planning Fleur Matthews says the new Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP) will impact on aspects of operations of councils and contractors, land developers, farmers and irrigators, landfill operators, and ORC’s own work in its environmental and engineering operations.

Because the LWRP will set a long-term vision for how Otago’s land and waterways will be managed and protected, communities should get on board at this early draft stage, she says.

“The eventual LWRP will be a cornerstone document for future environmental protection across all Otago, which is why it’s so important communities come together now and engage so their views can help shape the Plan,” she says.

“Now’s the time to chart a course for Otago’s waterbodies, be it lakes, rivers, streams or wetlands,” she says.

Besides the in-person drop in discussions across Otago from September through to late-October, there will also be two online meetings, one focussed on Queenstown residents and the other region-wide, plus an online feedback form available until 6 November for Otago residents.

“This’ll be the first time where specific rules and regulations for certain activities applying to Otago’s land and waterways will be proposed, with the potential for these new rules to impact on communities across Otago,” Ms Matthews says.

ORC wants to engage with the public to share what rules and limits are being proposed across Otago, within each area/rohe (or Freshwater Management Unit) across the province.

“Safeguarding our waterways will over time benefit everyone, providing greater opportunities for communities, industry, recreation and tourism alike. Everyone benefits from having healthier lakes, rivers, streams and wetlands,” she says.

Ms Matthews says there are several “key drivers” for change, with the strategic direction of the draft LWRP being a “significant shift” from the current Water Plan, which focuses primarily on water and contains little direction on managing the land which contributes to freshwater issues, such as water quality and ecosystem health.

“The objectives and policies of the [current] Water Plan focus on balancing resource use against protection of those resources and is out of step with the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020,” she says.

Ms Matthews said that in particular Te Mana o te Wai is the central focus for freshwater management that the LWRP will implement. It is a water centric approach, with its first principle being protecting the health and well-being of freshwater and ecosystems, ahead of water use and economic considerations.

“Our relationships and consultation with Tangata whenua, mana whenua and communities is the foundation for implementing Te Mana o te Wai into Otago’s LWRP,” she says.

The drop in discussions will enable people to discuss all the topics that the plan will be managing, from activities occurring in wetlands and beds of lakes and rivers, the disposal of solid waste, discharges of agri-chemicals and other liquids, wastewater discharges including sewage, greywater and industrial waste, stormwater discharges, dams and weirs, flood protection and drainage.

She notes that under the current Water Plan, in several areas it does not adequately address Kāi Tahu cultural values and interests, including mahika kai (food gathering) or taoka (treasures), which can be compromised in favour of other values, such as economic values.

Ms Matthews says in many instances the current Water Plan also doesn’t “adequately provide” for the integrated management of natural resources nor recognise the increasing impacts of climate change and has “limited recognition” of the relationships between fresh and coastal water and ground and surface water.

“These aspects will all be increasingly important for the decision-making over the life of the new Plan,” she says.


“At a glance”, summarising the areas of focus within the draft LWRP


“Significant” proposed changes

  • Water quantity manages the setting of water quantity limit, such as environmental flows, levels and take limits for all freshwater bodies across Otago

    These changes will affect those who abstract water for use, including primary production such as farming and forestry.

    Water quantity changes will include community supply, takes for storage, group management of take and use activities, transfers of water permits and hydro generation activities.

    The current planning framework is inadequate to effectively phase out all water over-allocation, where this may exist and does not prioritise the health of the waterways.

  • River catchments: The current Plan has only minimum flows for a limited number of catchments, and is complex, while under LWRP there will be environmental flows and take limits for all Otago rivers.

    Lakes: The current Water Plan doesn’t set take limits for Otago’s lakes. The key changes being proposed in the draft Plan being no new consented takes, diversions, damming or discharges will be allowed from natural lakes and their upper catchment area.

    Groundwater: The current Water Plan sets takes limits for aquifers, which include tailored limits, restriction levels and default limits. The draft LWRP proposes some mapped aquifers will have bespoke take limits, and the default take limit will reduce from 50% of the ‘mean annual recharge’ to 35%.

    Avoiding over-allocation: The current Water Plan doesn’t recognise over-allocation of surface water but adjusts take limits in highly allocated catchments. The new policy direction will be to avoid taking water in excess of take limits. This is a requirement of the NPS-FM.

    Phasing out over-allocation: The current Water Plan has a sinking lid policy to reduce water allocation, which partly relies on voluntary actions and is unlikely to reduce consented allocation to environmentally sustainable levels. Key changes will be establishing a two-stage framework that allows phasing out of the existing over-allocation.

    Stage 1 will have a staggered roll out for each of Otago’s Freshwater Management Unit (rohe/area). When re-consenting the amount of water able to be reconsented it will be limited to the lower historical take, based on guidelines for efficient use. Under Stage 2, if required, there will be proportional reductions for catchments if Stage 1 reductions are insufficient to meet environmental flows and levels.

    There will also be policy guidance for collective management (irrigation schemes and water use groups), community supplies and temporary takes.

  • Primary production; farming and forestry looks at these activities and specifically any impacts on rivers and lakes. The ORC’s draft LWRP outlines rules for keeping waterways clean, whether it’s the handling of animal waste storage and disposal, or forestry harvesting and replanting methods.

    The Plan is also working alongside the Freshwater Farm Plan tool being developed, under the Government’s Freshwater package from 2020, to also ensure farming practices achieve environmental outcomes.


“Moderate” proposed changes

  • Earthworks – specifies rules for earthworks for houses and larger commercial developments, such as sub-divisions, but also covers drilling for water bores and investigating any land for contamination.

    Under LWRP rules will now apply to all types of developments, not just for residential, and for bigger projects they must now be situated 50 metres away from water bodies (or get a resource consent).

    The ORC itself will need consents for an increasing number of its activities, such as the large number of flood control schemes it operates.

    Permission will now be needed for a new bore hole, and there are new guidelines for testing land for contaminants and how to deal with them.

  • Wetlands – the Plan will manage activities in or near wetlands and looks at activities which could damage them.

    All wetlands would be protected from drainage, earthworks, cultivation, and widespread herbicide spraying. A subset of wetlands will require all heavy stock to be excluded.

    ORC will continue to map Regionally Significant Wetlands. All wetlands will be required to be specifically managed under Freshwater Farm Plans.

  • Wastewater – covers discharges from treated sewage, greywater, industrial and trade waste, from community and municipal systems. Both existing and new systems are proposed to require consent to discharge treated wastewater to land. After 2045, discharge of treated or untreated wastewater to water and untreated wastewater to land would be prohibited.

  • Damming and diversions – covers damming and diversion of water, including the use, maintenance and removal of dams and weirs in the beds of lakes and rivers.

    There will be separate rules for in-stream (rivers, lakes wetlands) and off-stream (away from waterbodies) dams and weirs, and similarly separate rules for temporary and permanent damming.

    There will be clear policy direction for restricting the construction of new in-stream dams and weirs, and also will include direction for building off-stream dams and weirs.

“Minor” proposed changes

  • Integrated Management & Land and Freshwater – is the strategic direction of the proposed LWRP, for managing all resources in an integrated way, from giving effect to Te mana o te Wai, responding to climate changes through to recognising the need for transition in the use of resources over time.

  • Beds of Lakes and Rivers – permitted activity rules have been refined to capture all associated disturbances, discharges and deposition of material, so users don’t have to consult multiple parts of the plan. Permitted activity conditions have been simplified and focus in limiting the effects on water clarity, existing takes, nesting birds, public access and archaeological sites.

    Other changes proposed include reduced volumes for permitted gravel extraction; at 5 cubic metres per day.

    Key changes for flood protection and drainage infrastructure works include specific policy and rule pathways and consent required for any alteration, placement or replacement of infrastructure. No consent will be required for some bank re-battering, to repair flood damage.

  • Stormwater – looks at managing stormwater discharges, including reticulated networks and non-network operations, such as water off paddocks and roads.

    Network owners, mainly city and district councils, will require consent to discharge stormwater, and to progressively upgrade existing networks to meet water quality targets.

    There will be a new rule framework for non-network operators, with discharges connected to networks where possible.

  • Waste – covers landfills, clean fill material and organic waste (but not liquid waste, agricultural waste of farm landfills), with key changes being the identification and remediation of closed landfills at risk of erosion or inundation.

    For clean fill of less than 250 cubic metres per year, no consent required provided discharges are set back 20 metres from water bodies or bores and not in a drinking water protection zone, with similar rules for green waste and compost.

  • Other discharges – includes agrichemicals, vertebrate toxic agents, dust suppressants, swimming ands spa pool water, firefighting contaminants, or contaminated land material.

    Key changes are for managing waste oil as a dust suppressant and management of hazardous substances refined to be under one, consistent framework.


The draft LWRP will be publicly notified by 30 June 2024 when the plan will be opened for formal submissions.

Read about the draft LWRP here. (Updated content will be available from Saturday morning, 9 September).

The drop in and online discussion dates & places

Ōamaru — 18 September. 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. Weston Hall, 20 Main St
Dunedin — 19 September. 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. Dunedin Art Gallery, The Octagon
Ōwaka — 4 October. 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. Ōwaka Memorial Community Centre, 3 Ovenden St
Balclutha — 5 October. 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. Cross Recreation Centre, 18 Glasgow St
Ranfurly — 9 October. 11am-2pm. Maniototo Golf Club, Tyrone St
Mosgiel — 9 October. 4pm-7pm. Coronation Hall, 99 Gordon Rd
Wānaka — 16 October. 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. Lake Wānaka Centre, 89 Ardmore St
Cromwell – 17 October. 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. Cromwell & Districts Presbyterian Church, 10 Elspeth St
Millers Flat — 18 October. 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. Millers Flat Hall, 1665 Teviot Rd
Ōmakau — 27 October. 11am-2pm and 3pm-6pm. Ophir Peace Memorial Hall

Online – links will be shared shortly

Region-wide - 6 October. 11am -1 pm.
Queenstown - 10 October. 7pm-8.30pm.