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Three catchments named for special treatment

Three catchments named for special treatment under water policy

First published in Energy and Environment on July 11 2019

Catchments being considered as part of the Government’s Essential Freshwater programme for special treatment include the Hoteo in Auckland, the Waitaki in Canterbury and potentially the Pelorus in Marlborough.

Earlier this year, Environment Minister David Parker said a few catchments geographically spread around the country would be picked as at risk and classed as “exemplars” to show what could be done to stop “them tipping over” and government money would be used to help restore them.

A Department of Conservation briefing paper to their Minister Eugenie Sage said the At-Risk Catchments project was being led by the Ministry for the Environment.

“The project will identify a small group of exemplar catchments where a collaborative approach may be taken to help improve the health of waterways from the bottom-up. It will also identify gaps that could be filled by regulatory or non-regulatory interventions.

“This small group of catchments will be representative of a range of pressures and issues, and will help us to deliver quick action and learn more about what works on the ground. DoC has been working with MfE and MPI on the exemplar catchments work stream. An overlap in focus has been identified between our priority rivers work under the Biodiversity Contingency funding and the ARC project.

“So far, three catchments in common have been identified between the two projects – the Hoteo in Auckland, the Waitaki in Canterbury and potentially the Pelorus in Marlborough.”

Officials said coordinators would be recruited to help partners develop plans to achieve river catchment restoration. This recruitment will occur for the first two catchments this financial year and for the third catchment next financial year.

To make the most of the overlaps between the MfE and DOC programmes, officials proposed the three catchments be included in the first stage of exemplar catchments, and could be announced in March.

This has not happened yet, but officials said additional catchments will be identified through continued discussions with regional councils, partners and stakeholders, with a total of approximately ten exemplar catchments to be identified as part of this work stream.

Parker is due to release more details of the Essential Freshwater programme soon and has indicated changing land use will be a key to improving water quality. Tighter water standards with greater enforcement, restrictions on some farm practices, more intensive catchment management and a beefed up farm management with Overseer were all part of the toolbox to achieve this.

There would also need to be more work to help farmers improve practices and identify problem areas through farm outreach services run by the Ministry for Primary Industries.

Parker said there would be “regulation of some of the riskier practices that are degrading some of our estuaries, with too much sediment clogging up all the sand and killing the shellfish.”

The Government would look to regional councils to better manage catchments working under a “tightening of the parameters in the Freshwater National Policy Statement".

Proposed new freshwater standards were still being developed and would be released soon for consultation. Parker said the “devil is in the detail” and the complexity beneath this was “requiring farmers to change their land use is not simple”.

Nitrate level couldn’t be set the same for every river in the country and this would have to be done at a regional council level. However, too many farmers were not complying with the law and sometimes it was not being enforced and this would have to improve.

First published in Energy and Environment on July 11 2019

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