Being able to swim, drink and
collect food from Otago's rivers and streams is a target
everyone agrees with, but how that is achieved has been up
for debate. Rebecca Fox takes a look at the varying views
expressed during a month-long hearing into proposed
regulations aimed at improving and maintaining water
There was never any intention to put people out of business
by trying to improve the region's water quality, water plan
hearing panel chairman Duncan Butcher says.
From day one of the hearing Cr Butcher found himself
defending and explaining the council's stance and intentions
with proposed plan change 6A (water quality).
However, as the panel, including independent panel member and
former Queenstown mayor Clive Geddes and Cr David Shepherd,
was being told every day that the council's plans would wipe
out farming and horticulture, return production to 1990
levels, close meatworks, end forestry, and endanger the jobs
and livelihoods of thousands, maybe they were right to be
The council had done its best, they said, to devise a simple
easily accessible plan which would allow rural landowners to
continue to do what they wanted with their land with only one
proviso - run-off had to meet standards that would enable the
region to maintain and improve the quality of water in its
rivers and lakes.
The response they got from the majority of submitters was:
"Good on you, we won't argue with keeping the region's
waterways clean, but ..."
Here came the crux: they simply could not understand how it
Submitter after submitter, some with lawyers, water quality
scientists, environmental consultants and planners came to
deliver similar messages.
There is no certainty, no detail, no guidelines to give those
affected by the changes any idea of the day-to-day
practicalities of meeting the standards and if they didn't,
when the environment police would arrive?
Cr Butcher admitted there was not a "trigger level" in the
plan explaining when landowners should be looking at the
levels of nitrates.
"It was never intended to put people out of business," he
told Oamaru farmers.
Some submitters could not see how the approach differed from
any other, given most would not comply and need resource
consents for their land use anyway.
One farmer told the panel he did not meet the 10kg limit
despite not having used nitrogen on his farm for 25 years.
Mr Geddes advised against being concerned as there was
provision for resource consent to be gained.
However, uncertainty was expressed again: would those farmers
The suggestion of using a modelling tool designed for the
dairy industry to measure nitrogen run-off might be fine for
that sector but it did not work for pastoral farming or
horticulture, they said.
Those who designed the system told the panel it had
limitations and would be more useful as a trend tool than an
on-the-spot tool for enforcement and needed to be run by
trained people rather than the average farmer.
Then came the oft-repeated phrases of how some of the plan
failed to meet the intention of the National Policy Statement
for Freshwater Management or the Resource Management Act.
That was repeated so often that towards the end of the
hearing the panel suggested submitters skip over those bits
as they had heard them all before.
Next came the repeated calls for the council to be more like
other regional councils - most notably borrowing from the
Horizons One Plan court decisions to back their arguments,
one saying the regional council was operating in a "maverick
way", another calling the rules "draconian".
Mayors attended to express concerns about what the plan
change was going to mean for the region's city and towns,
especially as the precursor to the long-anticipated 6B plan
"You can't pitch town and country against each other," their
counsel, Phil Page, said.
While Dunedin Mayor Dave Cull warned that by the time the
towns and cities realised it, the policies and standards
applying to urban discharges would already be set.
"The city does not want to be put in the position of arguing
for a special regime for urban discharges that it is more
permissive than for rural non-point-source discharges."
This was despite Cr Butcher assuring them that there was no
indication of what the rules for 6B would be.
The heads of the region's major industries had similar
concerns as to what the future might bring.
The panel did not even get a pat on the back from the
conservationists and environmentalists, as all had
criticisms. For some, the plan did not go far enough, while
for others it seemed to risk more pollution.
By the last days of the hearing, Cr Butcher was telling
submitters the panel had got the message loud and clear that
there needed to be some explanation and guidelines on how the
new standards were going to be implemented.
Just how it would be included in the plan was a work in
progress, not expected to be seen much before Christmas.
• Council director of resource planning Fraser McRae said
when contacted as point-source discharge regulations were
operating well under the present plan, the council was in no
hurry to revisit those, so plan change 6B would be years
"All we were doing is flagging that in the future there would
be another change to align both but it's not on our urgent
Instead, the council would now concentrate on a new regional
policy statement, a process likely to take about five years.
Proposed Water Plan Change 6A (water quality) Aims to
maintain good water quality and improve it where
• Addresses non-point source discharges to water in rural
• Targets ensure that water will be suitable for contact
recreation, fishing, stock drinking water, and mahika kai
• Removal of policy regarding the capacity of rivers to
New controls will prohibit discharges:
• That have an obvious adverse effect on water quality.
• Where no practical steps are taken to avoid sediment
• To water from animal waste systems, silage storage, or a
• Will allow discharges that meet limits for nitrogen,
phosphorus, E.coli, and sediment.
• Provide a limited option where consents may be available
• Amend provisions for river and lake beds, and Regionally
Significant Wetlands to:Control bed disturbance.
• Make it easier to construct single-span bridges and other
• Stop the use of rivers as regular stock crossings.