ORC split on water accord

A decision about whether or not to sign up to the dairy sector's new water accord has divided Otago regional councillors.

The council, along with others nationally, has been asked to sign up to the accord as a ''friend'' but the implications of this worried some councillors, while others were concerned not signing would alienate the dairy sector.

Councillors voted three times before a final decision was made to sign the document - although not all were happy.

The water accord, developed by the Dairy Environment Leadership Group in consultation with the Government, regional councils, iwi and Fish and Game Council, outlined the industry's approach to ''enhancing the overall performance of dairy farming as it affects freshwater''.

Council policy and resource planning director Fraser McRae recommended councillors not sign, because council's Plan Change 6A (water quality) indicated greater management changes than envisaged in the accord.

''Successfully implementing the accord will most likely not have sufficient impact on water quality effects to satisfy the water plan's objectives of maintaining water quality and enhancing degraded water,'' he said.

Industry documents like these were used as a ''defence attempt'' when people did not meet council targets and he was concerned it ''undersold the efforts required'' by dairy farmers to improve water quality, he said.

Cr Michael Deaker said he did not believe the accord had enough substance to ''produce high water quality'' in the region's hottest spots, such as the Pomahaka, Tokomairiro and Kakanui Rivers.

Chairman Stephen Woodhead said while he supported the industry's initiative, the council had its own expectations of what was required in Otago and did not need to be tied to the accord.

Cr Sam Neill said the council was there to administer the law and should be friends, not enemies of the sector.

''Their aim is our aim. Not signing it smacks of superiority.''

Cr Doug Brown agreed, saying he was surprised at the recommendation, as it would be difficult for the dairy industry to go much further than it had, given every regional council had different approaches to water quality.

''I still think not signing this sends a bad message.''

Cr Trevor Kempton said the document was aspirational and there were no consequences in it for those who did not follow it, which was contrary to what the council was trying to achieve.

''I'd be concerned that if we signed it we'd compromise our philosophy.''

Cr Louise Croot said the council had spent a lot of time and effort on the earlier Clean Stream Accord which did not achieve anything. She did not believe the council should sign.

Cr Kempton asked the committee to consider a caveat emphasising the council's rights to implement its rules under the Resource Management Act but the motion was lost.

Cr Neill's recommendation that the council sign the document was carried.


Accord main points:

• Dairy farmers will exclude cattle from significant waterways and significant wetlands.

• Riparian planting will occur where it would provide a water quality benefit.

• Crossing waterways by dairy cows will not result in degradation of waterways.

• Dairy farmers will manage nitrogen and phosphorous loss from their systems and pursue continuous nutrient use efficiency.

• Dairy farms will comply with regional council effluent management rules and or resource consent conditions.

• Effluent systems installed will be fit for purpose and able to achieve 365-day compliance.

• Irrigation systems will be designed and operated to maximise the amount of water needed to meet production objectives.


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