Thursday, 25 June 2020 11:02

Taranaki welcomes revised water reforms

Written by  Staff Reporters
All existing Taranaki Regional Council riparian plan fencing can remain and will be accepted as compliant. All existing Taranaki Regional Council riparian plan fencing can remain and will be accepted as compliant.

The Taranaki Regional Council is welcoming the Government’s revised stance on freshwater regulation.

Council chairman and former Fonterra director David Macleod says the revised Essential Freshwater reforms unveiled this month validates the serious concerns raised about its original proposals.

“We all want our waterways to be healthier – we share that goal with the Government,” says MacLeod. 

“However, we had major concerns about the ability of the original proposals to deliver. We told Wellington their initial plans would have brought unpredictable and likely only marginal environmental benefits, but would have taken a very heavy toll on the social and economic well-being of this region and many others.”

MacLeod says the Government is now moderating its approach and seeking to build a more worthwhile, rational, science-based freshwater regulation regime. 

“We’re still working though the details. But in general, this change of stance is to be welcomed. The council’s strong and evidence-based submissions were substantially agreed with and key changes made.”

Notably, the Government has delayed any decision on a key nutrient limits pending further analysis of their worth, rather than going ahead with strict limits that one study estimated would cost $100,000 each for up to a third of the region’s farms, threatening their viability. 

It has also not proceeded with proposals to universally use OverseerFM in water regulations – the council strongly advised the OverseerFM model was not fit for that purpose.

“We’re delighted the Government agrees OverseerFM is best used as originally intended - for farmers to review and improve on-farm nutrient management,” MacLeod says.

The Government has also eased up on an initial proposal to impose a blanket 5m setback for all riparian fencing, saying now that 3m is the minimum. 

Importantly for Taranaki, all existing council riparian plan fencing can remain and will be accepted as compliant, which the council strongly advocated for. 

The Government has also backed off what would have been harsh constraints on dairying in the Waingongoro catchment, instead progressively targeting freshwater farm plans by which dairy farmers can implement farm-specific management to improve efficiency and reduce off-site effects.

Overall, MacLeod says it’s clear the Government has taken account of many of the points made in the council’s submission. 

MacLeod says that Government was firmly reminded the Taranaki region has, over time, collectively demonstrated strong commitment to improving freshwater health, taking carefully considered long-term action and spending millions of dollars on interventions of proven effectiveness. 

“If anything, the original proposals threatened to undo a lot of good work and goodwill and bring hardship and deprivation to communities engaged in productive and sustainable enterprise. We are still working through the amended proposals, but we’re encouraged that the voice of reason appears to have been heard, at least in part.

“We all know we have more to do in both our rural and urban areas, but Taranaki people know how to roll up our sleeves and keep moving forward – we’ve consistently led and shown New Zealand that it is not about endlessly changing plans, policies, meetings and paper – it’s on-the-ground actions that change and improve our environment.”

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OPINION: When I started writing this piece, I was sitting in my Kaiapoi office on a sweltering 30-degree summer’s day, and I could hear faint “plops” as youngsters pulled “phat manus” and “bombs” off the bridge into the Kaiapoi River as generations before them have done.

Do they know that the river is deemed “unsuitable” for swimming with E. coli levels of up to 2,420 per 100ml? This information is available on LAWA’s website, Land, Air, Water Aotearoa (LAWA) - Can I swim here? It makes for sobering reading. With levels this high, we should supply these youngsters with full PPE gear to wear over their shorts. The saddest fact is that this story is repeating itself from Cape Reinga to Bluff.

We are witnessing the systemic collapse of New Zealand’s freshwater systems as our environment can no longer handle the extreme pressure we have placed on it through decades of urban and rural intensification. We have taken too much from our environment and we must start giving back.

Change is coming with a renewed focus on healthy waterways through the National Policy for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM), which the Government announced in August 2020, as well as Plan Change 7 to the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan (PC7), which progressed through submissions and a hearing in front of independent hearing commissioners last year.

I attended the PC7 hearing in December and it boosted my spirits to observe the passion our community has for improving Waimakariri’s waterways. I hope the changes that come out of PC7 will be bold and far reaching.

The concept of Te Mana o te Wai underpins the NPS-FM and places the highest value on the health of freshwater systems. This philosophy is the new basis for how we, as a society, interact with our environment. The NPS-FM creates a framework for change, but we must also change how we think as council bodies, as communities, as businesses, and as individuals about how our systems/practices must shift from productive growth mode to sustainability mode, and how we can live within an acceptable environmental footprint. On an individual level, we need to realise how, over the long term, that wet paddock or riverbed block would benefit the planet if it were left to revert to a wetland or a more natural state.

This year the Waimakariri Water Zone Committee will focus on priority areas and working with the community to improve our waterways.

We will support change through three newlyformed catchment groups – the Sefton Saltwater Creek Catchment Group, the Landcare Working Group, and the Biodiversity Group.

We are ahead of the curve in Waimakariri in terms of engaging with farmers, waterway conservation groups and the wider community, but we still have a long journey ahead to restore our rivers and streams.

We must work together in a united way to leave our land and water for future generations to inherit in a better state than when we found it.

Whatungarongaro te tangata, toitū te whenua - As man disappears from sight, the land remains.

Michael Blackwellis is chair of Waimakariri Water Zone Committee.

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