Plan 6A changes adopted

Changes to water quality proposals will give landholders more time to meet tough new standards and allay fears about the ''pollution police'', Cr Duncan Butcher says.

The results of five months' work by the plan change 6A water quality hearing panel were released yesterday and approved by the Otago Regional Council.

Panel chairman Mr Butcher told the council the panel did not see any reason to change the principles of the plan to achieve good water quality.

But the changes suggested were in response to concerns expressed in submissions, and to make the plan clearer and less ambiguous for the public, he said.

Sources of pollution would be targeted, and the ''prohibited'' rules remained, although defined as ''gross behaviour''.

The major change was the dropping of the rule which required discharges to meet standards 12 hours after rain ceased, instead applying limits on a median flow.

Policy director Fraser McRae said the change meant the council would not measure discharges in the ''middle of [a] storm'', but when rivers dropped there should not be discharges that breached limits.

The timeline for meeting nitrogen leaching limits had been extended to April 1, 2020, to give landowners time to reduce nitrogen loss.

If they did not meet the deadline, they could apply for consent to give them more time to comply.

By 2025, the council expected all Otago waterways to meet the standards set, areas already complying with the standards being expected to continue to do so.

The nitrogen loading limit was raised from 10kg per ha per year to 20kg per ha per year for the Kakanui-Kauru, Shag alluvium, Ettrick, Roxburgh and Wakatipu aquifers.

Taieri's nitrogen leaching limit was increased from 10kg per ha per year to the 30kg per ha per year which applied to the rest of Otago.

The sensitive zones around the Lakes district remain at 10kg per ha per year.

''The current limit of 10kg per ha per year is necessary to protect the pristine state of the lakes in the area,'' the recommendations said.

Landholders would be required to provide results gained using nutrient model Overseer 6 to the council when requested.

Concerns about the council becoming the ''pollution police'' should be allayed as compliance would only be based on complaints and long-term monitoring, Cr Butcher said.

The changes gave landholders time to understand whether they needed to be concerned about discharges from their properties, he said.

The panel also recommended an implementation programme be developed, including setting up an oversight group to provide feedback to the council on how the process was going.

''For the plan change to achieve its outcomes, we need the co-operation of everyone.''

Cr Bryan Scott thought the new time frames were overgenerous and hoped farmers would embrace the change.

''They've got the opportunity to avoid all that [the regulatory path]. I do not want to be in a hall six years from now hearing we didn't give them plenty of time.''

Cr Gretchen Robertson said farmers needed to take action now to understand their discharges and take action to reduce them so they were prepared when 2020 arrived and compliance measures came into force.

Chairman Stephen Woodhead said the recommendations were a good mix of principles and pragmatism.

''Let's hope it doesn't get sidelined or tweaked too much in the Environment Court.''

Cr Gerry Eckhoff, who voted against the recommendations, said he was not convinced the science and practical applications were available to ensure the new standards did not financially affect farming, especially on tile-drained land.

The plan change will be publicly notified on April 20 and submitters will have 30 days to appeal it to the Environment Court.

It's in the water
Plan change 6A (water quality)

• Effects-based approach to managing rural water quality
• Controls contaminant discharges, not land-use activities
• Discharge limits set for common rural contaminants
• Discharges which meet limits are permitted

The plan
• Retain principles of achieving good water quality
• Retain effects-based approach
• Remove 12-hour after-rain requirement for discharges
• Create a 20kg nitrogen per ha per year limit
• Lower Taieri moved from sensitive zone to 30kg of nitrogen per ha per year.
• Timeline to comply extended for troubled regions
• Choose nutrient model Overseer 6 as tool to measure nitrogen loss
• Clarify wording to provide greater understanding

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