Continued water contamination 'not tenable'

The Waikato Regional Council's Healthy Rivers Plan for Change programme will make changes to the regional plan to restore and protect the Waikato and Waipa rivers.

These changes will reduce sediment, bacteria and nutrients including nitrogen and phosphorus from entering the water in these rivers.

The changes will improve the council's polices on freshwater and reduce point and non-point sources of contaminants, Waikato Regional Council environmental farm systems manager Alan Campbell told drystock farmers at a recent water quality meeting in Otorohanga.

"Some of these contaminants have been increasing in our waterways in recent years, and largely that is a result of intensification of land use."

The plan focuses predominantly on non-point pollution - contaminants that run off land from agriculture.

"Farming is having these effects on the river and they are getting greater as time goes by. And if we were to allow that to continue, we will find ourselves in a position that is just not tenable."

The Beef+Lamb New Zealand-hosted meeting was one of a series held around the region last week that were designed to inform drystock farmers how the project could impact on their farm.

The council had decided on a collaborative process in engaging with the estimated 250,000 people living in the catchment about the plan. It was an attempt to avoid the legal action that had marked the Resource Management Act process over the past two decades, Campbell said.

The Collaborative Stakeholders Group was formed earlier this year. It was tasked with establishing the limits, timelines and options for managing contaminants and discharges on the rivers.

The 25-person group consists of representatives from each sector and interest. It also includes eight community representatives.

Last week's meetings were part of the plan's first step, which was to obtain a balanced view by listening to all of the affected parties. "It's the people out on the farm, not coming to these meetings, who may hold the answers we are looking for."

One of the group's challenges was to get those answers from them, Campbell said. Their next step is to then use that information to develop limits and targets and develop options and policy mix.

The plan put forward by the CSG is supported by a technical alliance of five individuals that assist the CSG with any technical questions. There is also a joint steering group consisting of regional council and iwi staff that make sure the CSG remains focused on the project and on schedule.

Once the plan is completed, it is sent to the council's co-governance committee, which then recommends the plan to council.

Once that has occurred, the regular RMA process begins, and the plan would go out for consultation with formal submissions and hearings.

The aim was to have the plan proposed to the council by December 2015. Later this year or early next year the CSG will release an issues and options paper, which will outline what the group is trying to address.

That timeframe was ambitious, given the complexity of the issues at hand, Campbell said.

The council had to be implementing these policies by 2025.

The plan was a multigenerational undertaking and had a decade-long life span.

"We are not going to turn around the changes of the last 150 years in the next 10," Campbell said.

There were options for farmers to prepare for the changes to come, Beef+Lamb Northern North Island extension manager Andrew Jolly said.

One of those options was to create a land and environmental plan to help them prepare for future change.

The organisation ran workshops for farmer to help them create these plans for their farms, and where there were opportunities for them to reduce their environmental footprint, he said.

Waikato Times