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Published: 2009-11-11 00:00:00

Ideas for new water quality objectives in a working draft on Environment Waikato’s next Regional Policy Statement (RPS) reflect community expectations for the health of the region’s lakes and waterways. The council today agreed to start circulating the working draft to iwi partners and key stakeholders next month as part of an ongoing discussion about significant resource management issues to be addressed in a formal proposed RPS next year.

Good water quality has been identified in EW surveys as one of the public’s key priorities and, although the Waikato has areas of outstanding water quality, many lowland water bodies are degraded. The existing RPS has an objective of "a net improvement in water quality in the region’s water bodies" and provides for the mauri (life-supporting principle or special nature) of water to be recognized and provided for.

The new ideas consider having specific RPS water quality objectives aimed at protecting the mauri and health of all water bodies, and maintaining areas of outstanding water quality. All water bodies’ values should provide for swimming, drinking water, food gathering and aquatic ecology, the ideas suggest, and existing outstanding water quality levels should be maintained around Taupo, in the Upper Waihou River, the Waikato River to Waipapa, and three rivers on the Coromandel.

EW chairman Peter Buckley acknowledged any eventual implementation of such ideas could present particular challenges for the Waikato’s farming sector. "Given farming’s central importance to our regional economy, we’re keen to hear what key stakeholders and our iwi partners think before we design our actual draft RPS.

"Sediment, bacteria and nutrients from farming operations have been identified as key factors impacting on water quality in our region. Sediment can affect water clarity and damage aquatic life, bacteria in water can make people and stock sick, and nutrients can lead to toxic and non-toxic algae build ups."

Mr Buckley said, if the sorts of ideas being discussed with key stakeholders and iwi partners were eventually implemented, EW would need to work very closely with farmers and the wider agricultural sector on:

· what collectively needs to be done to meet any new water quality objectives

· the timeframes over which the objectives would need to be met

"We intend to work closely with the farming sector in the review of the 2012 Waikato Regional Plan to give effect to the finalised RPS. For water quality, we could consider audited industry self management arrangements.

"Ultimately, we want to ensure we have healthy waterways to support activities and values our communities want us to uphold - and we also want to ensure that a healthy farm-based economy continues to underpin our region’s prosperity.

"We have an open mind about how we will achieve the RPS objectives we eventually settle on. We are already working with farmers, their representatives and industry organizations on solutions to the water quality problems the region faces. We need to work together to get things right."



Example & solutions

Sediment – problems such as erosion from farming operations and stock getting into waterways can lead to a build-up of suspended solids in water.

· Some 63 per cent of river water samples (other than for the Waikato River) failed to meet contact recreation standards related to water clarity. The Coromandel area was an exception with only 13 per cent failing on clarity measures.

· Solutions include soil conservation and pasture management techniques to prevent erosion, fencing waterways to keep stock out and riparian planting.

Bacteria – farm run-off and effluent discharges to waterways can help cause levels of E Coli that pose risks to human and stock health

· Using a national standard of 550 E Coli per 100 ml of water for a single sample, some 31.4 per cent of waterways other than the Waikato River failed to meet contact recreation standards due to faecal contamination.

· Solutions include good on-farm effluent management, riparian planting and fencing waterways.

Algae – nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) leaching and run-off from farm operations can help stimulate algal growth leading to toxic algal blooms and build up of slime.

· EW has been monitoring N, P and algae levels in the Waikato River since 1987. Algae is a particular problem in the Waikato because dams and operation of the hydrolakes slow the water down and allow time for the algae to multiply. N and P from farm operations can help stimulate algal growth. There were extensive blue-green toxic algal blooms in the Waikato River in 2003 and 2006, and such blooms are regular in the region’s shallow lakes. N and P can stimulate growth of the nuisance plant Periphyton in stony bottomed rivers. This can be unsightly, smother river beds and affect aquatic life.

· Solutions include limiting the run-off and leaching of N & P from farming operations into waterways. EW is working with farmers and the agriculture sector on the more widespread adoption of comprehensive nutrient management plans to help reduce nutrient loss to waterways. Increasing efficiency of nutrient use and preventing nutrient loss from farms benefits both the environment and farmers’ financial bottom lines.