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No ECan clearance for drinking water nitrate increase

Environment Canterbury rejects a story in Friday’s Press implying that its receiving of the Waimakariri Zone Implementation Plan clears the way for increased nitrates in Christchurch drinking water – something that by law, ECan cannot allow.

Headlined “ECan approves higher level of nitrates in Christchurch drinking water” the article had resulted in misguided comment to ECan and elsewhere, Environment Canterbury chair Steve Lowndes said.

“As an organisation, we can’t let that stand. No one, and especially not Environment Canterbury, wants higher nitrates in Christchurch drinking water. Despite the headline, there is no approval from Environment Canterbury for that to occur”.

“By law we must maintain or improve water quality, which means even if we – for some incomprehensible reason – wanted to, we couldn’t stand back and knowingly allow the source of drinking water to be degraded by nitrates or any other contaminant,” Steve Lowndes said.

“The level of 3.8mg/litre of nitrate, recommended by the zone committee, is the reduction goal for areas that have higher levels. It is not a target that we can allow areas with low nitrate levels, such as under Christchurch city, to increase to over time.

“The receipt and endorsement for planning purposes of the zone committee’s zone implementation plan is just the start of a new process to address the long-term risks to Christchurch’s drinking water, taking into account new scientific investigations of the groundwater systems north of the city.

“As part of this process, the Waimakariri Water Zone Committee has provided recommendations, which Council endorsed for the purposes of the more formal planning process, to take place over the next six to nine months.

“This is part of our normal Canterbury Water Management Strategy processes, with members of zone committees working together with the community to submit recommendations. Now that we have received them, it’s our job to take those recommendations and develop policies and rules to make sure water quality and ecological values are protected and enhanced, which is what we’re mandated to do.

“There will be a very rigorous and public hearing process to decide these rules. Anyone will be able to make a submission on the proposed rules and to speak and present evidence at the public hearings, which will be run by a panel of expert independent commissioners.”

“We know from the modelling studies we have done that increasing nitrate levels under Christchurch is a risk, but at this stage there is no measured evidence of any increase in nitrates in the aquifers under Christchurch city. We will be working very hard to keep it that way,” he said.

In addition to protecting drinking water the zone committee’s recommendations received on Thursday, include improving in-stream health, enhancing river flow and cultural values, as well as reducing nitrate leaching and sediment run-off.

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