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New Plan sets rules to improve water quality

New Land & Water Regional Plan sets rules to improve water quality

Environment Canterbury announced today that it will implement new rules to improve the quality of water throughout Canterbury.

For the first time, controls on the leaching of nitrates will be set by the Land & Water Regional Plan, which covers a wide range of land-use activities with an impact on the quality of water in both urban and rural areas.

The Hearing Commissioners’ recommendations on the plan were accepted at today’s Environment Canterbury council meeting. Commissioner Peter Skelton says that once the plan’s rules are in full effect next year, the council will require farmers and land users to manage their operations and improve their environmental performance so - over time - the decline in water quality is reversed.

“This is a core focus of the plan because activities in rural areas greatly affect the quality of our water, much of which is found underground,” Professor Skelton said. “However, the plan also deals with water quality issues in urban areas and a variety of land-use activities. These range from on-site wastewater to storing hazardous substances. There are a number of rules aimed at cleaning up stormwater and sewage overflows – particularly in Christchurch. We are working effectively with the territorial authorities and other stakeholders to address these issues.

“Declining water quality is a major issue in Canterbury and one that could take a long time to reverse in some areas,” Professor Skelton said. “These rules are a good start. Some farmers and other land users need to improve their environmental performance. Many are already taking responsibility, which is to be applauded.”

Within the limits that have been set, the plan enables economic activity. “The focus is on outcomes rather than inputs,” Professor Skelton said. “Land users know their own businesses so they won’t be told what to do with their land. Whatever they do, however, they will need to meet the rules.”

There are limits that apply now, based on nutrient allocation zones around Canterbury. The more serious the water quality issues in a zone, the stronger the rules. “By 2017,” Professor Skelton said, ”we anticipate that the plan will contain a series of numbers setting out good management practices across a range of land types, climates and land uses. Many organisations are involved in developing those numbers and we expect them to be available by 2015.”

The Land & Water Regional Plan sets the framework to implement community aspirations for water through the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, a community led, collaborative approach to improving water outcomes throughout the region.

The Commissioner with policy responsibility for water, David Caygill, says the Strategy started by asking about the outcomes the community wanted for its waterways, and what targets they should aim for.

“We set a number of environmental outcomes and worked back from those to see how land users can help achieve them,” Mr Caygill said. “These are the agreed targets. We are looking for improved economic outcomes, but we also need to make sure land-use change does not harm the environment. In areas where it has been harmed we must address this – and the limits in the plan will help.”

The Land & Water Regional Plan sets standards across the region. At catchment level, local communities are involved in developing more detailed (sub-regional) plans and rules to put in place local solutions. This has already happened in Hurunui-Waiau, and is making good progress in Selwyn-Waihora. Close behind are Ashburton-Hinds, Lower Waitaki - South Coastal Canterbury, Upper Waitaki and Wairewa / Lake Forsyth.

As well as addressing water quality and quantity issues, the Land & Water Regional Plan enables earthquake recovery and considers other important issues for the future of Canterbury such as land stability, flood protection and biodiversity.

Having accepted the Hearing Commissioners’ recommendations, council’s decisions will be notified on 18 January 2014. The plan will then become operative later in the year, subject to any appeals on questions of law.

Ends

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