New water plan rules take effect from May

The much-vaunted new Otago Water Plan rules are about to take effect.

After Environment Court mediation, the Otago Regional Council has approved Plan Change 6A. The water quality discharge rules kick in on May 1.

The Environment Court issued a Consent Order on February 28, incorporating amendments to the plan change. They were agreed in the mediation process with the council and those who appealed against its original decisions.

The council said the plan change set out ''an effects-based approach to managing discharges to water''. The limits and targets focused on controlling discharges of contaminants, rather than regulating the land uses that created them.

There were discharge thresholds for common contaminants entering waterways. Discharges within those thresholds were classed as permitted activities.

People using the land could meet the thresholds as they saw fit, the council said.

Policy, planning and resource management director Fraser McRae said despite the mediation, the rules' key focus had not changed: maintaining and improving water quality where necessary to ensure waterways could be used for recreation and food-gathering.

Council chairman Stephen Woodhead said the Environment Court's acceptance of the amendments to the plan change and the council's ratification ended a long and constructive process of consultation and negotiation with the community.

''Now that this phase has come to a close, another important phase of implementation and education is about to begin,'' Mr Woodhead said.

''I am confident that many landholders, based on the feedback we have gotten from them throughout this process, will be proactive about ensuring their properties comply with the new contaminant discharge thresholds which come into effect from April 2020.''

Until then, land users could assess the effects their operations were having on water quality, he said. If they needed to make alterations, there was plenty of time to do so.

The council would liaise with farmers and foresters to help them understand the rules, advise them how to assess water quality on their properties, and promote best practice for reducing the level of contaminants getting into the water.

''For those for whom complying may be more difficult, our staff and other primary industry advisers will work supportively to guide and educate them about the practices they may need to adopt to comply,'' Mr Woodhead said.

During winter, a forum and roadshows would be held throughout the region. Council staff were compiling fact sheets and guides to give out, as well as online advice.

Meanwhile, the council is carrying out a public awareness survey, asking residents what they know of its activities and how satisfied they are with its services.

The survey will run until April 28, conducted by the Tauranga-based Key Research Group. It will telephone 900 people and invite residents to fill out an online survey on www.orc.govt.nz.

Council chief executive Peter Bodeker said the survey was the first of its kind the council had embarked on. It would focus on public understanding of the council's role in the sustainable management of water, land, air, and public transport.

The feedback would be important in helping to guide the nature and direction of the council's future activities, Mr Bodeker said.

''We hope as many people as possible will complete the online survey, because that will help us make decisions about service provision, community engagement, communications, and activity planning and implementation, and help us prioritise these activities.''

- by Sally Brooker