Concern at lack of analysis of water plans

Farmers in the Hinds water catch› ment area were still suggesting changes to a plan to improve water quality and quantity in the area just hours before it was due to be adopted.

Disquiet over the ability to meet recommended standards and the costs for doing so were expressed at public meetings last week.

About 110 people turned out to two meetings in Hinds, where recommendations put forward by the Ashburton zone committee for improving water resources in the catchment were discussed.

The committee is a joint committee established by Environment Canterbury and the Ashburton District Council. It was seeking feedback before it considered adopting the recommendations this week and then forwarding them to the commissioners at Environment Canterbury for adoption.

Following these meetings, the Hinds Plains Land and Water Partnership held a public meeting to consider further recommendations to the committee, which attracted about 50 people.

Chairman Rab McDowell said it was an opportunity to make suggestions that would make the plan more workable without negating the aims of the zone committee.

Little analysis had been done so far on the economic effect of recommendations in the plan, Mr McDowell said.

There was also concern among farmers in the lower part of the plains that irrigation scheme and drain management committees already operating would be sidelined. Local knowledge on what was working did not seem to have been recognised, he said.

If the plan was to gain farmers' confidence, it needed to ensure such issues were resolved from the outset.

The group was forwarding its recommendation to the zone committee for yesterday's meeting at, which the plan was due to be adopted.

At the other public meetings, farmers expressed concern that a suggestion there be a 40% reduction in nitrogen leaching across the catchment by 2035 would relate to a 50% reduction by dairy farmers.

A timetable showed a 5% reduction, using current practices, would be sought by 2017, rising to a 35% reduction by 2020 and 40% by 2035.

Environment Canterbury commissioner David Caygill reassured them the timetable would not be"‘hardwired'' and would not be taken through to rules.

The committee acknowledged the recommendations would not achieve all the desired outcomes for the Hinds Plains area by 2040, but it would be a significant first step. It also recognised there were some uncertainties, particularly on the cost and effectiveness of managed aquifer recharge, but said these should not be used as an excuse for no action.

Mr Caygill emphasised the measures would continue to be reviewed regularly and said there was still scope for improvement.

The solution package includes 30,000ha of new intensive, irrigated land use which, it is estimated, could contribute an additional $104 million to the gross domestic product and create 232 new jobs per year in the regional economy

The extensive package includes 44 recommendations covering such things as land management, reducing the loss of nitrogen and nutrient levels, the introduction of farm environment plans by 2017, recharging aquifers, and man› aging ground water allocation including establishing a working party this year.

The working party would address the likes of minimum flow targets and measuring sites, partial restrictions, switching takes from surface to deep groundwater, in›stream and habitat restoration, improved drain manage› ment and assessing the effectiveness of aquifer recharging.

- by Maureen Bishop