Irrigation firm backs forum

WORKING TOGETHER: The Land and Water Forum's third report on water quality and allocation emphasises a consensus-based approach between groups.
WORKING TOGETHER: The Land and Water Forum's third report on water quality and allocation emphasises a consensus-based approach between groups.

A collaborative approach to freshwater management emphasised in a new Land and Water Forum report has been backed by the chief executive of one of South Canterbury's largest irrigation companies.

The report mirrored the decision-making process used in the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS), Opuha Water chief executive Tony McCormick said.

It was also the same approach being undertaken in Environment Canterbury's Land and Water Regional Plan, and by the zone committees that would eventually set limits for water quality in Canterbury.

"There's that good alignment and the Land and Water Forum's been quite inclusive. The CWMS has been entirely consistent with this approach," he said.

The report was the result of a long collaborative process and he was reasonably confident it would provide a balance between agricultural and environmental concerns.

The collaborative process should strike a balance within communities about what was feasible and what was not, Federated Farmers water spokesman Ian Mackenzie said.

Farmers wanted the regulatory process to include good management practice, the inclusion of farm environmental plans and audited self-management where appropriate, the Mid Canterbury farmer said.

"Good management practice provides a holistic way to address water quality issues [rather] than the nitrate myopic approach suggested by many regional councils."

The forum released its third and final report, outlining how freshwater management could be improved, on Thursday.

Forum chairman Alastair Bisley described the 125-page report as a "once-in-a-generation chance to resolve the entrenched problems surrounding fresh water".

Environment Minister Amy Adams and Primary Industries Minister David Carter said the work provided a solid foundation for progress on the Government's water management strategy.

They said they would now carefully consider the recommendations.

The report stopped short of recommending a framework for achieving national targets for water quality. However, the Government said it would take this on itself and set up a working party.

Mr Bisley said all water-quality solutions should be tailored to individual catchments.

"Good management practice by land and water users is the basic tool. Incentivising it is the preferred approach.

"Regions are accountable for managing within limits. Industry schemes, catchment-wide initiatives and regulation may all help to ensure the limits are achieved within the agreed timeframes."

Water availability for users once limits had been set should be allocated with long-term economic welfare in mind, he said.

As catchments became fully allocated, consents should be clarified and strengthened to preserve their value.

Water should also be made more easily transferable between users while preserving limits.

Eventually, consents longer than 35 years for significant infrastructure, and a stronger presumption that consents would be rolled over, should also be considered.

Mr Bisley said New Zealanders should accept that under the pressure of people, agriculture and industry, the quality of rivers, lakes and streams would vary. "They will not all be pristine."

"We believe most New Zealanders will agree, if they are sure that there are bottom lines which preserve the health of our water and human health, that water quality will improve over time and that outstanding waterways will be protected."

The Timaru Herald