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Published: 2016-06-30 00:00:00

Moves to chart the way forward for water management in Waikato over the next 30-50 years have taken another significant step forward today with regional councillors endorsing an issues and opportunities paper.

The paper – prepared after input from the likes of iwi, political parties, central Government agencies, business, farming and environmental groups – focuses on a wide range of water quality and allocation issues. It will now be used in the development of a Waikato freshwater strategy after the local body elections in October.

“Waikato water is critical to the interests of the regional community, both urban and rural, and the nation as a whole,” said Waikato Regional Council chairperson Paula Southgate.

“This very considered paper has taken account of extensive feedback on the Let’s Talk Water discussion paper we issued earlier this year. It will serve as a sound basis for fleshing out the best way forward.

“There is very clear support for the initiative the council has taken to develop a strategy.”

Cr Southgate stressed the issues and opportunities paper – which covers a wide range of subjects and ideas – is not advocating any particular approach at present.

“What it incorporates is what various parties think about future approaches, and it provides the basis for detailed strategy development.”

A report to today’s council meeting said the strategy needed to take into account factors such as the future impacts of land use on water quality, the effects of climate change on freshwater supply and demand, and potential changes to freshwater policy.

It said that “as the freshwater allocation authority, the Waikato Regional Council is in the ideal position to lead this work that seeks solutions that are appropriate for this region”.

Nearly 50 meetings were held with regional stakeholders as part of the development of the issues and opportunities paper.

“There has been unanimous support from meetings and in the form of feedback for this project to consider the future allocation of water well into this current century,” the report said.

Feedback also indicated wide support for more policy options to address water issues “often with cautions raised to not go too far down the market model at the expense of losing valuable existing regulatory tools that work”. However, “the idea of a clear signal to create incentives for reduced water use was positively accepted at meetings”. Such signals could relate to the amount of water used but also the amount of water needed to assimilate discharges from all sources.

The report added that the first in, first served allocation method for water was seen as an impediment to flexible and responsive use of freshwater.

Having better quality information on water, developing smarter methods for managing water and focussed advocacy for legislative reform were identified as key areas for future work in the issues and opportunities paper.

The actual freshwater strategy is currently scheduled to be developed by June next year.

“The council is committed to continuing to work closely with iwi, stakeholders and the wider community on this extremely important piece of work,” said Cr Southgate.

“We’re keen to make this discussion as wide-ranging as possible so we find the best way forward.”