Water rules ‘stuff up’ an institutional failure

Michael Laws
Michael Laws
Water plan changes were "stuffed up" by the Otago Regional Council and were an institutional failure on its part, councillor Michael Laws says.

The ORC today announced that implementation of some provisions of its regional water plan due to come into force this year will be delayed until 2026.

"ORC is emphasising that the delay does not mean a loosening-off on improving water quality," strategy, policy and science general manager Gwyneth Elsum said.

"By March, new rules impacting urban and rural water quality are due to be proposed, with the new Land and Water Regional Plan to be notified in late 2023."

However, the council had postponed bringing into force some provisions in water quality rules for rural discharges, Plan Change 6A, as they were considered ambiguous and unenforceable, Ms Elsum said.

"Because of this, we know they would not have had the intended effects on water quality, and would only have caused uncertainty for those trying to comply."

The Otago Daily Times reported in September that councillors were debating the issue, which sparked an angry response from Fish and Game that implementation was being moved so far back as to be obsolete.

Federated Farmers said delays would be unsurprising as new Government regulations meant the scope for the council’s water plan had to be greater.

Cr Laws said as a Dunstan ward councillor, he wanted to apologise to water users in the Otago region.

"Three years ago, a former chief executive confirmed to the council governance team that everything was fine. It most certainly wasn’t," he said.

"Our collective governance failure of that time was to accept senior staff assurances, rather than question and test them."

The failure was collective, not singular, hence Cr Laws felt he had to apologise to water users, irrigators, farmers and environmental groups.

"Our only true atonement is to get it right, going forward, and to collectively take responsibility."

Plan Change 6AA, the plan change needed to defer the problematic provisions of 6A, was subject to public consultation, and eight submitters spoke to their submissions in hearings in late December.

"Those who submitted on the plan change may appeal the council’s decision ... meaning Plan Change 6AA is subject to appeals until Tuesday 24 March," Ms Elsum said.



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