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Improved water quality is the aim of four parties that signed memoranda of understanding in Oamaru last week.
The North Otago Irrigation Company, Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company, Waitaki Irrigators Collective Ltd and the Otago Regional Council officially agreed to work together for the good of the area's rivers.
The North Otago and Lower Waitaki companies irrigate a combined total of 32,600ha of farmland, while the collective represents irrigators watering 75,000ha.
The memoranda outlined how each party would help implement the council's Regional Plan: Water for Otago Plan Change 6A by setting goals, understanding values and taking part in catchment management until 2020. That is when all water quality thresholds in the plan will be applied.
Council chairman Stephen Woodhead said the memoranda were significant steps towards achieving sustainable, high-quality water standards in North Otago.
''It's great to see the quality leadership from these organisations,'' Mr Woodhead said.
''This, plus their science expertise, will mean that by 2020 land users will have the opportunity to meet the water quality standards we seek.''
North Otago Irrigation Company chief executive Robyn Wells said it was vital to work collaboratively to implement the new rules.
After gaining information from the catchment process, the company would add more practices into its farm plans to reduce contaminants entering waterways.
''These improvements to our environmental management system will then be rolled out with our existing shareholders and for any new area of irrigation we develop in our expansion programme,'' Ms Wells said.
''Moving forward, we need to be working hard to understand the gap between current practice and the 2020 water quality standards.''
Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company chairman Chris Dennison said the farming community was looking forward to working with the council to protect the high-quality water in the Waitaki plains aquifers.
''The introduction of environmental farm plans for our shareholders and more intensive monitoring of groundwater quality will ensure that viable farm businesses can work in harmony with the environment,'' he said.
Each memorandum varied slightly to reflect implementation issues in the Kakanui and Waitaki plains catchments. Farmers on rolling hill country faced different challenges to those on flat land.
- by Sally Brooker