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Published: 2011-07-15 00:00:00

Close collaboration between all stakeholders – including iwi, farmers, the agriculture industry and local councils – will be the key to successfully addressing land and water quality issues in the region, says the chair of Waikato Regional Council’s land and water quality subcommittee chairman Norm Barker.

“Declining water quality in our waterways is a major issue for the council and other stakeholders, especially farming and iwi. How we best address this issue is one of our most important challenges in the years ahead and it’s crucial we all work together collaboratively to get the best outcome for our region,” said Cr Barker.

“We want to include all stakeholders in the discussion on the way forward and will be examining the most effective ways to get their input into the matters the council is responsible for dealing with.”

Cr Barker was yesterday elected chairman at the subcommittee’s inaugural meeting, which received a staff report outlining how the council must manage freshwater quality by setting limits or targets – and ways to achieve them – under new Government policy.

It also heard the Crown-iwi Waikato River Authority, as well as joint river management committees involving iwi, should ideally agree with any council Waikato Regional Plan changes aimed at introducing such limits or targets for the Waikato River.

The staff report to the subcommittee discussed both the Government’s National Policy Statement (NPS) for Freshwater, aimed at protecting the quality of waterways nationally, and the new Crown-iwi co-management regime.

The subcommittee is tasked with overseeing a review of the land and water quality components of the regional plan, which must give effect to the NPS.

The report noted that councils were able to introduce a progressive implementation programme, with progress reporting, for giving effect to the NPS. That means the regional council will be able to give effect to the NPS over time, as it carried out a staged review of the regional plan. As part of this, staff had been instructed to prepare a partner and stakeholder consultation strategy for the subcommittee’s consideration.

“The implication for resource users of a staged review is that the limits or targets for water bodies, as well as methods that apply at an activity or property level, will occur in different catchments at different time frames,” the report said.

On water quality, three key principles were guiding initial staff work on the regional plan review:

  • The Waikato River is a priority catchment in the review
  • The focus of any plan change is to address the effects of diffuse contaminants – such as bacteria, nutrients and sediment – entering the Waikato River catchment, including its Waipa River tributary
  • Crown-iwi co-management issues are central to the process, content and timing of any plan change for the Waikato River.

The report said the current regional plan sought to maintain and enhance water quality but monitoring indicated this wasn’t happening. “The plan does not currently contain policy instruments that seek to address adverse effects of diffuse contaminants, which result from agricultural land use and activities.”

The report said any new plan must give effect to co-management arrangements, which include a vision and strategy setting general objectives for the health and well-being of the Waikato River.

Under the legislation, the Crown-iwi Waikato River Authority may itself set targets and methods for achieving the goals of a reviewed vision and strategy. A first review is expected to be completed late this year, with a second review expected to start in 2015.

The staff report said these co-management-related matters needed to be taken into account as the council reviewed land and water aspects of the regional plan, and noted that any proposed plan change should have the agreement of the Waikato River Authority and Waikato River joint committees involving iwi and councils.

Cr Barker said: “Farming is a core component of our regional economy but we know it is also one of the things having an impact on the health of waterways.

“To get the best from our region socially, economically, environmentally and culturally, we need to protect the natural resources such as water that underpin activities like agriculture and tourism, and which help maintain our reputation in international markets.

“If we get our policies and plans relating to agriculture and land and water right, we can best achieve our collective visions for the Waikato. It will assist us to compete globally, while caring locally for our environment.”