Water is ECan's highest priority

Last updated 08:29 19/12/2012

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OPINION: Dame Margaret Bazley, who chairs Environment Canterbury's commissioners, takes stock at the end of 2012 to outline the organisation's approach to its work.

Better water management in Canterbury is in the best interests of people, the environment and the economy, and is the Environment Canterbury commissioners' highest priority. Earthquake recovery is also a significant priority.

Canterbury needs to make the best possible use of water to grow the regional economy and create jobs. Commissioners believe water can be used sustainably so both the environment and the economy benefit. We need this to create a secure future for our children and future generations.

The work being done through the collaborative Canterbury Water Management Strategy builds on years of community engagement on what we need to achieve. The strategy was developed by the region's Mayoral Forum before the commissioners' appointment.

There is widespread agreement on the need to improve water quality, make better use of water, as well as manage nutrients from farming and other activities. Farming has driven growth in Canterbury and we want to ensure it can continue to provide wider economic benefits.

Farmers have also made dramatic improvements in their environmental performance and accept they must continue to do so.

Good environmental management on our farms is the right thing to have. It is also essential to maintain and enhance the place we love, as well as ensure access for Canterbury and New Zealand farm products in key overseas markets.

People are being given the opportunity and tools to find solutions to local water management issues.

As part of the water strategy work this year, there have been 125 regular public meetings, more than 100 stakeholder and community meetings and working groups, 13 field trips, 26 workshops and 16 meetings with Ngai Tahu.

Each of the 10 community committees set up under the strategy includes an Environment Canterbury commissioner, working at the community level. Each committee also has papatipu runanga and district or city council representatives.

Our relationships with local authorities on water management, and across our full range of responsibilities, we value highly. Our growing relationship with Ngai Tahu is an enduring one and is contributing to improved resource management for the region. Central to this relationship is recognition of the special relationship Ngai Tahu has with land and water.

We're excited about how zone committees and local people are agreeing on actions for their areas. These actions are written into zone implementation programmes. Our council receives each programme and works with zone committees on making actions happen. Some actions involve us, others involve local councils or organisations, and good things are starting to happen.

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The Land and Water Forum, set up by the Government to develop a national consensus on freshwater management, has released its third and final report. It endorsed the collaborative approach of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy and supported local stakeholder groups setting limits, which are then written into formal council plans.

In addition to communities finding agreement on how to manage water, we also need clear and consistent policy and rules.

Environment Canterbury has recently adopted a new Regional Policy Statement - which sets high-level planning policies and objectives - and reflects the aims of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy.

At the next level our proposed Land and Water Regional Plan - which was notified earlier this year and will become operative in 2014 - has detailed rules for better resource management.

These rules align with the Regional Policy Statement and are designed to deliver people's aspirations as agreed in the Canterbury Water Management Strategy.

Central to the new plan are the interim rules that set and manage limits for water quality, quantity and nutrient levels in Canterbury.

These apply equally to urban and rural waterways.

These rules are crucial as we seek common ground between the competing demands for water, and strive to meet the expectations of both urban and rural communities. They also address a Government requirement, under the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management, for us to set limits for water quality.

Local water management zone committees are now working with their communities to set and manage limits for specific catchments, which will replace the plan's interim limits.

This work has already started in some areas and is happening over the next few years throughout Canterbury. Practical investigations, such as those on Lincoln University's model farm, are leading the way in providing the research to improve on-farm practice, such as reducing nitrate leaching.

One of the tools for improving water quality is our Immediate Steps biodiversity programme, set up as part of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy. This includes investing $10 million over five years to improve the environment; work includes fencing and planting of waterways. So far $1.5 million has been committed to 94 projects.

In addition $14 million has been committed to clean-up two nationally important water bodies, Te Waihora/ Lake Ellesmere and Wainono Lagoon in South Canterbury. This work is happening over five years in partnership with Ngai Tahu, Government, local government and industry. The restoration of Te Waihora is the first to be done without being required by legislation.

Making more efficient use of water and providing more reliable water to farmers is also a central part of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy. Better and more reliable water will provide both economic and environmental benefits, including more and better quality water in waterways.

Earthquake recovery is also a significant priority for commissioners.

In early December, we made big changes to Christchurch's Metro bus network - work that had started before the September 2010 earthquake - to allow for further growth. More than ever we need a public transport network that takes people where they need to go and provides an attractive option to cars on congested roads.

The Blue Line - a high frequency north-south service - is the first step in improving the Metro network. We are planning a similar east/west service by 2014/15 and will continue to improve the Blue Line service to meet the needs of passengers.

The earthquakes have had an impact on our work in greater Christchurch. We are doing everything we can to assist the rebuild, providing support to Cera, the Christchurch City Council and the Government.

For example, we have a big role in dealing with demolition waste and have been tasked with preparing the Natural Environment Recovery Programme, and the Land Use Recovery Plan for Cera. Both of these pieces of work are under way and due to be completed during 2013. Commissioners are also committed to returning Environment Canterbury to a building in the central city in 2015.

And finally, the damage to Lyttelton Port means the more than 80 cruise ships expected this summer will be calling in Akaroa, where our harbourmaster will be on duty to ensure safety.

Environment Canterbury has a very wide range of interactions with people. Our big challenge is to ensure people have the right level of information about our activities, and can get involved if they wish to. Our website is a key source of information with 780,000 visits from 242,000 people during the past year.

In the past 12 months, commissioners also responded to 536 direct public inquiries, while our customer services staff responded to 68,000, plus 12,600 inbound emails.

We held 15 council meetings and 50 committee meetings - all open to members of the public.

If you would like to contact the commissioners, there is an 0800 Commissioners (0800 266 647) phone line, or email commissioners@ecan.govt.nz.

- The Press

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