Water report garners action, not dust

Landowners at a troubled Otago waterway could ultimately see "boots on the ground" after Otago regional councillors decided not to let another scientific report "sit on a desk and gather dust".

At this week’s strategy and planning committee meeting in Dunedin, councillors decided they would not simply note Niwa freshwater and estuaries manager Neale Hudson’s 163-page review of water quality and ecological data for the Manuherikia River catchment, but would also seek options for potential remedial actions from ORC chief executive Sarah Gardner.

While the report was intended to set a benchmark for future ecological condition assessments of catchments, of particular concern for several councillors was a history of non-compliance for E. coli limits in Thomsons Creek at State Highway 85.

Councillors declined to receive another report on degraded waterways without attempting to answer "what next?"

"We’re going to bloody well improve it," council chairwoman Marian Hobbs said.

"The turbidity I saw, the slime on the rocks that I saw, does not make me happy."

Cr Michael Laws said it was clear from the report that the waterway "isn’t matching our existing policy ... let alone some policy that we’re supposed to be working on now’’.

Cr Gary Kelliher, of Alexandra, warned against appearing heavy-handed and "further aggrieve an already aggrieved community".

He said the council should allow work already under way to come up with solutions; that farming practices had improved in the area; and the results councillors were focused on could have been due to "one rainfal".

Ms Gardner warned councillors against a ‘‘knee-jerk reaction’’ to the findings.

"This is not unique," she said; it was simply one report that had a very narrow scope and was intended for planning purposes.

She could have staff audit properties, which was ‘‘a huge resourcing thing’’, but asked councillors to consider the trade-off.

Cr Bryan Scott said Dr Hudson’s report ultimately described declining water quality.

"It’s nonsense doing these reports if they’re going to sit on a desk and gather dust.

"At what point are we going to take responsibility to get the stream back to where it needs to be — otherwise, what’s the point?"

hamish.maclean@odt.co.nz

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