Southland needs more Waituna-like responses

Many hands: Waituna Landcare Group's Gay Munro and Environment Southland land sustainability officer Katrina Robertson, ...
John Hawkins

Many hands: Waituna Landcare Group's Gay Munro and Environment Southland land sustainability officer Katrina Robertson, riparian planting in 2015.

The annual arrival of kereru in our willow trees over the past couple of weeks, about three weeks earlier than usual, is an encouraging sign that spring is in the air. We have about 20 right now, but we can get up to 100.

The predictions of better prices for red meat and dairy products will be the source of cautious optimism for many within the farming industry, tempered by the knowledge that the unpredictable weather pattern that spring may throw at us over the next six weeks is a major factor in the fortunes for the year ahead.

The Government's recent announcement of the successful grants from its Freshwater Improvement Fund included the Waituna Partners, who will receive $5 million over five years for initiatives to help improve water quality in the lagoon and catchment. It is great to see this ongoing project receiving the recognition it deserves.

The combined effort of the Waituna Partners – Environment Southland, Department of Conservation, Southland District Council, Te Rūnanga o Awarua and Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu – shows what can be achieved when everyone works together.

DairyNZ, Beef + Lamb New Zealand, and Federated Farmers deserve acknowledgement too. Along with Environment Southland, they have committed considerable resources into Waituna over recent years.

Waituna is a special and particularly sensitive catchment and the Waituna community has led the way in becoming one of the most proactive catchments in New Zealand in mitigating the effects of their farming operations, through good management practice and innovation.

The funding will be the catalyst to move the catchment towards a more long-term sustainable future.

In the run-up to the election, water quality and water usage will continue to be hot topics as the various parties attempt to out-promise each other.

Here at Environment Southland we are a little more grounded in our resolve to improve water quality. We know the pathway to that goal is about implementing change on the ground.

What we need is a Waituna-like response across the province, getting everyone up to speed with good practices to minimise nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus), E.coli, and sediment loss.

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In the future, we intend to go out to talk and listen to the community as part of our People, Water and Land programme.

This is being developed so we can meet the community's expectations and our commitments under the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

It will consider targets we all want to work towards, including the Government's swimability targets.

While we have a statutory responsibility to set catchment nutrient limits (or discharges into waterways) within a specified timeframe, it is important that the focus on improvement starts now and continues to run in tandem, or ahead of any statutory rule processes.

In my experience, once farmers are convinced there is a need for change and understand what the issues are for their own properties, they will come up with practical and innovative solutions to solving those problems.

Working together and forming partnerships will be a key to success.

The public hearing last week on Invercargill City Council's stormwater consent application amplifies the fact that reducing discharges to waterways to improve water quality is not just a rural issue.

The Government's focus is wider.

It includes urban cities' and towns' three-waters responsibilities – drinking water, waste water and stormwater – acknowledging the reluctance of some councils to commit sufficient funding to their long-term plans to deal with ageing and failing systems in a timely manner.

I'm pleased to say that here in Southland work is going on with district and city councils looking at how to address this issue effectively over time.

This past week has seen the resumption of the proposed Southland Water and Land Plan hearing at Environment Southland. This is democracy at work and I would like to thank all submitters for their time and effort in making their points and answering the panel's questions. I'm sure the final plan will be better as a result.

Farmers may be interested to know that the council has sought clarification on what "immediate effect" means when it comes to rules in the proposed Southland Water and Land Plan.

Some rules, like those for intensive winter grazing and cultivation, say that you now need a consent where you may not have previously needed one. Under the Resource Management Act, farmers can continue with these activities without a consent for up to six months after the plan is finalised, as long as there are no changes to the scope and scale of the activity.

This year the Murihiku Māori and Pasifika Cultural Trust has adopted an environmental theme and Environment Southland is supporting its schools' art event.

Last night we presented a special kaitiaki award to the Fiordland Kindergarten for their very impressive eel sculpture. The children have been learning all about eels and plan to continue working with agencies in the area to advocate for improved fish passage.

Nurturing the hearts and minds of young people with environmental interests is so important for our future. I encourage you to head to the Southland Museum and Art Gallery to see their inspiring artwork.]\

Nicol Horrell is chairman of Environment Southland

 - Stuff

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