Freshwater plans meet with approval

Local groups are pleased to see water quality being taken seriously, following the announcement of new freshwater reforms.

The Government announced yesterday it would pump $700million towards primary sectors, and other groups, to help them implement the new standards.

The proposals, unveiled in September, attracted more than 17,000 submissions, about two-thirds of them in favour.

Farmer organisations were overwelmingly opposed, and argued they would be the ones to pay the bill for the reforms.

Critics such as Dairy NZ said it would cost billions, but the Government said the net benefit would be $193million per annum over 30 years.

Federated Farmers spokesman Chris Allen said

farmer groups now wanted the opportunity for input to ensure the final regulations and national policy statement matched the intent of the policies.

"And if the regulations are shown to be flawed or impractical, the Government needs to be open to changing them."

The package aims to improve water quality in lakes, rivers and wetlands after years of complaints that nutrient runoff from intensive land use by agriculture was polluting rivers and streams.

In the final version of its policy, revealed by Environment Minister David Parker yesterday, the Government stuck with plans to temporarily block further intensification of agriculture, and require councils to do the same within the next few years.

The Government said a $700million fund would go towards the creation of jobs to implement the new regulations, including riparian and wetland planting, removing sediments and preventing runoff from entering waterways.

The Government also stood by its proposals to keep stock out of all waterways more than 1m wide.

Fencing requirements were relaxed however — down from a proposed 5m from waterways to 3m for new fencing.

Many fences already erected 2m from streams under previous regulations would not need to be moved if they were permanent structures.

Otago Fish & Game environment officer Nigel Paragreen welcomed the additional funding.

"We should support people to make the world a better place and it looks like this funding will improve environmental outcomes and help rebuild our economy."

He said it made sense, as Otago was going through a transition process in how it manages water.

"They are embarking on quite a significant work plan over the next five years, to rewrite the regional policy statement and to write a new land and water plan."

Southland Fish & Game general manager Zane Moss said while it was great to see investment into improving water quality, it would be critical to see policies developed and implemented.

And there were some issues he would like the document to go further on, including intensive winter grazing.

"It is the most damaging practice on Southland farms, if it is not done well."

But it was "pleasing" to see the Government taking water quality and the need to improve it seriously.

Otago Regional Council chairwoman Marian Hobbs said council had submitted in support of the proposal, when the plans were presented for consultation in September last year.

She said the council was working through the details of the plans, including updates to the national policy statement for freshwater management, new national environmental standards, and to the Resource Management Act.

"We have had an opportunity through our own plan changes in the first half of 2020 to get ahead of the curve on some of the new requirements around stock exclusion, fencing, and land use intensification."

She said through the process for ORC’s "called in" plan changes, it would be able to align its proposed rules with the direction that action for healthy waterways had taken.

Environment Southland chairman Nicol Horrell said the reforms would help in making progress towards the environmental outcomes its communities want, and the extra funding was recognition investment was need to "complement" the regulatory change.

"[It] has some wide reaching implications for our work programmes and our communities, but it is too early to fully understand what the impacts will be."

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