Consensus for Hurunui and Waiau rivers

MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: A proposed Hurunui and Waiau River Regional Plan has been completed, says David Caygill.
MISSION ACCOMPLISHED: A proposed Hurunui and Waiau River Regional Plan has been completed, says David Caygill.

DAVID CAYGILL, the Environment Canterbury Commissioner with responsibility for water, marks a milestone in water management.



The end of the moratoria on consents for the Hurunui and Waiau rivers this month was a milestone for water management in Canterbury.

The moratoria were imposed by Environment Canterbury in August and December 2010 respectively following careful consideration. They were designed to improve the process for water management in the Hurunui and Waiau catchments.

They stopped anyone applying for consents to take, dam or use water from the Hurunui or Waiau rivers and their tributaries until October 1, 2011.

We imposed the moratoria - for the first time in New Zealand - to give time for overlapping planning processes to be conducted in a sensible, timely and efficient manner.

At the time the moratoria were imposed there were four statutory processes underway in the Hurunui catchment. In addition, a committee had been tasked with finding collaborative solutions to water management issues in the Hurunui-Waiau zone, as part of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy.

The moratoria achieved what we intended: they have allowed these processes to proceed in a sensible order, providing clarity around how water should be managed in an integrated way.

We now have a proposed Hurunui and Waiau River Regional Plan (notified October 1).

This plan recognises and gives regulatory effect to a set of recommendations developed by the community-led Hurunui-Waiau zone committee over the past year or so.

This process embodies what the Canterbury Water Management Strategy was set up to do - to develop a consensus on local, integrated solutions to water management issues.

What the Hurunui-Waiau zone committee has achieved in the limited time since the moratoria were imposed is an outstanding success and a testament to the efforts of all involved.

The first step was finding seven people from the community and others with a strong interest in the zone to sit around the same table and talk about what they actually agreed on for water management. They were joined by representatives from the Kaikoura and Te Ngai Tuahuriri Runanga, Hurunui mayor Winton Dalley and Environment Canterbury commissioner David Bedford.

When they started talking in July last year they found they agreed on a surprising amount. They agreed with the Canterbury Water Management Strategy that priority should be given to the protection of the environmental values of water, its customary use, as well as drinking water and stock water.

At the same time they agreed on the need to allow for economic uses including irrigation and hydroelectric generation, as well as recreational and amenity values. Much of the committee's discussion focused on how to balance the competing needs for water and provide for all values.

For instance, some people view the water flowing down our magnificent braided rivers as "wasted", while others see it as a valuable environmental resource protecting ecosystems and rare and threatened species.

The approach of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy is to address water management issues in parallel and by working together find ways to deliver what people throughout Canterbury want.

The key to success has been the way the committee engaged with everyone interested in water issues - covering social, economic, cultural and economic values - to create a shared view of how to achieve our goals now and in the future.

The process for developing the Hurunui-Waiau zone implementation programme (Zip) included dozens of committee meetings, public meetings involving more than 300 people, written feedback from more than 125 people, as well as extensive discussions with a wide range of stakeholders throughout the Hurunui-Waiau zone. On August 25 this year the committee formally presented its Zip to Environment Canterbury and Hurunui District Council.

Environment Canterbury received and endorsed the Zip "as the basis for the design and realignment of work programmes, for drafting regional plan provisions, and for preparation of a draft Long Term Plan".

The Hurunui and Waiau River Regional Plan was written in parallel with the development of the Hurunui-Waiau zone implementation programme.

Time pressure as a result of the moratoria meant the zone committee was unable to completely resolve the final nutrient limits for inclusion in the plan.

As a result one issue of interpretation and drafting - around nitrogen and phosphorus limits - had to be resolved by Environment Canterbury commissioners without reference back to the zone committee.

This issue is back with the zone committee for further consideration.

The plan's public notification on October 1 coincides with the end of the moratoria on consents on the two rivers. It sits alongside the operative Canterbury Natural Resources Regional Plan and provides specific rules for water quality and quantity (river flows) in the Hurunui-Waiau zone.

As a proposed plan, the Hurunui and Waiau River Regional Plan has statutory weight under the relevant acts of Parliament, but it will not become fully operative until the formal Resource Management Act processes have been completed.

Members of the public have a chance to have input on this plan through the submission process under the First Schedule to the RMA.

As a result of the Environment Canterbury Act 2010, the process for the Hurunui and Waiau River Regional Plan is different in two areas.

Firstly, the panel of hearing commissioners "must have particular regard to the vision and principles of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy".

Secondly, no appeal is allowed to the Environment Court. Appeals on points of law only, however, are allowed to the High Court, but only by people who submitted on the plan.

While this process seems time-consuming, it is the only way to ensure we end up with a robust and widely accepted system for managing our water resources.

As envisaged in the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, we must ensure we use water in an environmentally sustainable way while also allowing water for economic, cultural and recreational purposes.

That is what all the parties engaged in this process intend to achieve.

The Press