Otago Regional Council's approach to water quality and
allocation has been validated by the latest Land and Water
Forum report, chairman Stephen Woodhead says.
However, the council did have concerns about some of the
report's recommendations, especially those relating to
trading water and allowing its "highest-value use" to
dominate, chairman Stephen Woodhead said.
In other countries such as Australia and the United States
such approaches have had huge societal costs and left large
tracts of land dry and not able to be farmed.
"Some of the recommendations do not fit our driest area,
Primary Industries Minister David Carter said the report, the
forum's third, would be considered by the Government and its
conclusions fed into its freshwater reform programme.
Forum chairman Alastair Bisley said the report recommended
integrated decision-making in catchments, continuous
improvement of management practices and clearer rights to
take and use water, within set limits.
"We call for community decisions at catchment level - with
national frameworks and bottom lines from central
Sector good-management practice schemes and audited
self-management schemes would play a key role.
"Water available for users once limits have been set should
be allocated with long-term economic welfare in mind."
Regional councils with their communities would need to
identify specific sources and consider the most appropriate
mix of methods and tools to achieve the objectives they set.
Mr Woodhead said if the report was adopted in whole by the
Government, then Otago had nothing to worry about but if it
decided to take a nationally consistent approach it would
create problems for the region.
"One size does not fit all." The report's calls for more
research into water quality and the environmental tools
needed to ensure it, were welcomed, he said.
"The focus has been on production for too long. Research into
tools landowners can use and environmental best practice is
While some had criticised Otago's approach for being neither
collaborative nor catchment-based, the council believed it
was both those things, just approached with an "Otago
"We have always used the collaborative approach and
encouraged the use of best-management practices . . ."
The council was supportive of longer-term consents for large
Green Party water spokesman Eugenie Sage said there were two
glaring omissions in the report: the lack of crucial national
environmental standards for water and no charges for
commercial use of water.
"Such standards are essential to determine controls on land
use and limit how much nutrient and other pollutants can go
into waterways." More than half the country's monitored
rivers were unsafe for swimming, one-third of lakes were
unhealthy, and two-thirds of native freshwater fish were at
risk or threatened, she said.
"A charge on irrigation water is an effective price signal to
more efficiently allocate a scarce resource." The report
suggested creating a market for water rights by making them
tradeable, but that would just further complicate water
management, she said.
"This report shows irrigators and agribusiness got a lot of
what they wanted but without having to balance that with
measures like having to pay for the water they use or agree
to key regulatory controls, which are missing."