New rules proposed to clean up Waikato's waterways

Posted by: Gerald Piddick

New rules proposed to clean up Waikato's waterways

All Waikato farmers will have to undertake environmental plans and any land use change will require a resource consent under rules being proposed in the Collaborative Stakeholders Group's Healthy Rivers plan change.

Waikato farming practices are in for a major shakeup with new rules being proposed in a regional plan designed to improve water quality on the Waikato and Waipa rivers. 

The rules under the Healthy Rivers: Plan for Change/Wai Ora: He Rautaki Whakapaipai project could see land use change being deemed a non-complying activity and requiring a resource consent, all farmers to submit environmental plans and stock excluded from all waterways.

The Healthy Rivers Wai Ora committee and the full regional council are due to decide whether to notify the proposed plan change for public consultation. The committee meets on September 5 and the council on September 15.

After notification, there will be a 60-day period before the rules around land use change take immediate effect. It will make it very difficult but not impossible for landowners to undergo dairy conversions, CSG chairman Bill Wasley said.

"We have set a very high threshold."

The 80-year plan is designed to take make the two rivers safe for swimming and food gathering along their entire lengths, as is required by the legally binding Crown-iwi Te Ture Whaimana o Te Awa o Waikato.

"We are at a crossroads with this massive project focused on the health of two of our key rivers, which are hugely important to both our environmental and economic wellbeing," Wasley said.

The plan change will target the contaminants nitrogen, phosphorous, pathogens and sediment getting into the rivers. The first stage covered by the draft plan change is actions over a decade that will ultimately result in 10 per cent of the change towards the required standard.

Analysis indicates the measures proposed by the CSG will make major improvements in bacteria levels and some improvement in phosphorus and sediment levels in the first 10 years.

Other results of the first 10 years' actions would only be apparent at a later time. This is because the mitigation, the contaminant, the location and the receiving water body all affect the length of time for results to show up. Changes on the land to reduce nitrogen take some time to show up in the water.

The rules will be staged to give landowners the necessary time to adjust to the transition. It is estimated the measures could result in a 4 per cent drop in annual profit worth around $40 million a year across the region's farming sectors.

This figure takes into account projections that reduced profit could be offset to some degree by costs savings through, for example, farmers reducing fertiliser use which can harm water bodies.

Public consultation is due to be carried out once a plan change recommendation is signed off by the council. It is expected the submissions process would lead to further refinements to the plan change.

The plan change will include the following new rules:

  • Getting more stock out of waterways.
  • New resource consent requirements and introducing extra restrictions for land use change.
  • Additional requirements for forestry harvesting.
  • Management of direct discharges to the rivers.
  • Targeting particular catchments for special attention.
  • Nitrogen discharge benchmarking and requirements for high emitters to reduce discharges.
  • Requirements for greater planning of land use activities.

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