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Healthy Rivers: A Current Overview

Healthy Rivers
A Current Overview

The Waikato Regional Council (WRC) under the regional planning legislative requirements has proposed a plan change (PC1) to the operative Waikato Regional Plan. This proposed plan change focuses almost solely on the impact on the waterways created by farming and horticulture.

Before I go any further with this overview it must be said that all New Zealanders are responsible for the health of our waterways, even the great majority of us who live in urban areas.

We all live here, we all eat the food that is grown here, and we all go to the toilet here and we all have a part to play in protecting the quality of our waterways.

There has been much public discussion to date with lots of time spent assigning blame and not enough time solving problems.

All of us need to step back and take ownership of this, it's not just farmers or just the agricultural industries, it's all of us that own this problem, and we're all going to need to try and figure out ways to do things better.

"It's going to take all of us to make some hard choices to do that."

Some of those hard choices will need to be made by people who live in New Zealand's cities.

The agricultural industries have recognised and taken lots of actions towards rectifying the problems that they have caused, and they need to receive some credit for the effort that's been put in over the last 15 years. If we look at the results from these efforts we can see improvements in water quality as a result.

Giving credit for the effort they've put in is a much better way of getting everyone to move forward than just trying to assign blame.

Farmers are at the forefront in the battle for New Zealand's river health and we should appreciate what they are trying to achieve.

Part of the issue is that the farmers are expected to carry out all of the actions for improvement and bear the costs of those actions, but we've got to help them. We've got to help provide them with solutions that are economically feasible and will work.

Farmers are just trying to make a living like the rest of us.

It's not just agriculture and farming impacting on our New Zealand's rivers as there are point source discharges from urban areas and industrial sites that also impact on the rivers.

The current situation is that we want to live in society as we know it now and have all the trappings of modern day life as at present, but we don't want to pollute our rivers and rightly so.

Invasive species are also a massive problem (e.g. Didymo etc.).

Invasive plants and animals in our waterways are still a major problem, with foreign species of fish like Koi carp and Catfish wreaking havoc on the natural vegetation in our waterways and exacerbating the decline in water quality.

Even if we were to ban farming totally we would still have a problem with water quality from the effects of the invasive species. For example Koi Carp are threatening New Zealand’s freshwater species and environments by:

• Stirring up sediment and making the water murky
• Increasing nutrient levels and algal concentrations
• Contributing to erosion
• Feeding on and removing aquatic plants
• Preying on invertebrates, native fish and their eggs
• Competing with native species

So in relation to the Ecosystem Health as set out in the plan change document, surely Koi Carp must be addressed as they have a huge effect on the rivers from the damage they do.

Yet invasive species are common in our waterways but have been largely ignored with the focus being almost totally on the effects from agriculture.

What we're actually dealing with is a the multiple impacts that humans are having on the waterways and if we really want to restore these water bodies to what we want them to be then we need to have fit for purpose legislation that still allows for all parts of society both Urban and Rural, to provide for their social, economic, and cultural well-being and for their health and safety as stipulated in the Resource management Act 1991.

Going forward

The region, in fact New Zealand as a whole has to have a discussion and decide, what is the standard that is required across the whole country and then enact that standard nationally, rather than the current situation where we have differing standards across all of the regions in New Zealand.

If as part of that discussion it is desired that we take actions that impact on the ability of rural land users and communities to carry out activities that are currently legal then we must as a nation, in the interests of natural justice, be prepared to fairly compensate those land users and communities for the reduction/removal of those current legal rights.

In saying that then we must also provide the same certainty of fair compensation to urban land users and communities that face a similar reduction/removal of any existing legal rights.

This discussion around the national standards must include any requirements in relation to Climate Change, Greenhouse gas Emissions reductions, ETS and the proposed Zero Carbon Bill as opposed to the current ridiculous situation where, under regulation such as PC1 proposed by WRC, this is inconsistent with Government’s climate change goals.

To be undertaking legislative change at a regional level that is going to end up with requirements that are the reverse of New Zealand’s obligations at a national; and international level would be nonsensical to say the least.

Specifically, the grand parenting of diffuse nitrate discharge rights serves to discourage research and innovation into alternative / lower GHG emission farming methods. Grand parenting emissions rights based on past practice serves to discourage innovation and slow the adoption of alternative, less damaging farming practices.

Surely we can achieve more and better outcomes by taking the time now to ensure that all of our obligations under any climate change accords are accounted for whilst still achieving the desired improvements in water quality under local government legislation (i.e. PC1).

We currently have a number of large national & international environmental protection societies that are promoting the reduction in animal based farming and the use of animal based proteins with this being replaced by cropping and the use of plant based proteins. Yet PC1 specifically prohibits the set-up of any new or expanded horticulture operations as horticulture has now been declared to be a non-complying activity within the boundaries of the Waikato Region.

Under the new government we now have a strategy of planting a billion trees, but how is this going to happen when much of the land for that will need to be taken out of productive animal farming and will then suffer a loss of capital value that is estimated to be approximately 20%. What land owner will want to devalue their land by this amount without some type of fair compensation?

Suggested Solutions

Put the whole of PC1 on hold until the following steps are completed:
1. New Zealand’s obligations under any Climate Change accords are fully identified and then included in the proposed plan change.
2. Improve the level of the water quality monitoring to identify the exact areas where the worst problems are.
3. Improve the level of Section 32 economic evaluation of the outcomes from PC1.
4. Complete the consultation in respect of the Hauraki Iwi area and return this area back into the plan.
5. Re-design the implementation of PC1 so that it is based on a sub-catchment model and that the requirements are based on the results of scientific monitoring of water quality in each sub-catchment.
6. Implementation at the sub-catchment level undertaken by way of Best Practicable Options based on the results of the monitoring in the individual sub-catchments.
7. Develop a management strategy to remove the invasive species from our waterways.

Andy Loader
Co-Chairman P.L.U.G.
(Primary land Users Group)

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