Farmer care required when completing projects around waterways

Bala Tikkisetty

Bala Tikkisetty


The generally better weather of summer is when farmers often carry out works in and around waterways because of their lower flows.

This work can include stream straightening and excavating the beds of rivers and lakes to, for example, install bridges or culverts, to remove sediment build-up or to better manage an unstable stream.

Such work can pose risks to the environment and be subject to environmental regulations. It's important farmers and contractors protect the health of waterways by ensuring that any works don't impact on bank stability, water quality and aquatic life.

A newly built farm bridge. Care is required when building farm projects so they do not pose a risk to the environment
Andy Jackson

A newly built farm bridge. Care is required when building farm projects so they do not pose a risk to the environment

The Waikato Regional Council is organising a field day focussing on river management and in-stream works on March 16 at 1023 Mangaotaki Road, Piopio. It will start at 10am and will be followed by lunch.

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It will be a worthwhile opportunity to talk to the experts about the best ways to protect the environment while carrying out farm projects, which can involve a wide range of issues.

For example, sediment build up or instability may be caused by stock trampling waterway banks and by cultivation of paddocks too close to waterways without an adequate buffer zone or enough sediment control measures.

The effects of such problems on aquatic life and water quality can be exacerbated through inappropriate in-stream excavations or inappropriate removal of bank vegetation.

Besides hurting water quality and aquatic habitats through increased sedimentation, the destabilisation of banks and beds can cause changes to the course of rivers and streams, resulting in loss of land and property and infrastructure damage. Doing things right can avoid recurring problems.

Structures such as bridges, culverts and water intakes are essential features of most farms. They should be well planned and constructed to ensure they are not at risk from the stream and also to protect in-stream values.

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Such structures can obstruct or divert flows to prevent fish passage, and block migration and access to spawning grounds, including to areas that have been used as traditional or recreational fisheries.

The Resource Management Act prohibits any disturbances to river, stream and lake beds unless the disturbance is specifically allowed by a resource consent issued by a regional council.

That's why Waikato Regional Council's policies cover the use, erection, reconstruction, placement, alteration, extension, removal or demolition of structures in, on, under or over the beds of rivers, streams and lakes.

They also cover any disturbance of the bed as well, such as stream straightening or cleaning. So it's essential that those planning such works check out the rules before starting work.

However, the council also recognises that there are a range of activities in and around waterways that are not harmful. The regional plan has many rules enabling straightforward activities without the need for a consent, provided certain conditions are followed to avoid the sorts of problems described above.

In summary, protecting stream banks on livestock farms is a very important way of supporting farm profits and the environment. Farming depends on good quality water for stock and, generally speaking, better water quality means healthier animals and higher productivity.

However, activities such as intensive farming, forestry, roading and horticulture can cause soil erosion, as well as build-ups of contaminants such as bacteria and chemicals which are washed into watercourses during heavy rain.

Managing the margins of waterways – the so-called riparian zones – helps protect water quality on farmers' own properties and those of their downstream colleagues.

It's worth remembering that all parties involved can be held responsible for unlawful in-stream works, from property owners through to property managers and earthworks contractors.

Checking the rules and getting good quality advice when planning any activity in or near a stream is essential.

  • Bala Tikkisetty is a sustainable agriculture advisor for Waikato Regional Council.

 - Stuff

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