ORC picks water focus amid rush

Only complex freshwater management areas in Otago will have detailed scientific modelling done while the Otago Regional Council rushes to complete its Land and Water Regional Plan over the next three years.

The council has until the end of 2023 to notify the overarching land and water plan, and the three-year timeframe staff have for the work does not allow for detailed studies to be done in all areas, the council’s strategy and planning committee heard yesterday.

As the council set environmental limits for its waterways, places such as the Catlins and Upper Clutha, which have low hydrological modification, high water quality, and high environmental values, were likely to use regional models to fill in for missing data.

More detailed work in places including the Lowburn, Pomahaka, Taieri, and North Otago areas would provide catchment-specific modelling for the plan.

Cr Marian Hobbs embraced the scientific approach the council was adopting, as it allowed the council to get on with the preparation of the plan with "some urgency".

"If we had to wait until we had all our ducks in a row, we’d be here another 10 years," Cr Hobbs said.

Cr Gary Kelliher was among those at yesterday’s committee meeting who recoiled at a potential risk that council water quality senior scientist Jason Augspurger identified in his report.

When detailed models were required yet unavailable, setting precautionary limits to water use without enough background information could lead to overly restrictive limits, Mr Augspurger said.

Several councillors, including Cr Kelliher and council chairman Andrew Noone, urged staff to use local knowledge to fill the information gaps they came up against.

In accordance with the Resource Management Act, the council must notify a regional plan that gives effect to the Government’s new national policy standard for freshwater management by the end of 2024.

However, after a four-month investigation last year, former Environment Court judge Prof Peter Skelton found Otago’s freshwater planning system was not fit for purpose to manage the region’s freshwater, and the council had inadequate rules for water takes and the discharge of nutrients.

Environment Minster David Parker consequently recommended that the council must notify a new water plan by December 31, 2023.

The council accepted the recommendation.


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