Environment Waikato’s new Plan for the Region will manage the effects of intensive farming in the Region.
The Waikato Regional Plan, which sets environmental bottom lines for using the Waikato’s natural and physical resources, was adopted by Environment Waikato on September 27 after more than five years of consultation, submissions and hearings. It effectively links all activities making use of the Region’s land, water, air and geothermal resources.
The Plan sets environmental standards and reduces bureaucracy by allowing a wide range of activities to go ahead without resource consents – as long as standards are met.
It acknowledges that unrestricted animal access to water and poorly managed stock crossings of river beds is affecting waterways in the Region. The Plan permits stock access, as long as specified environmental standards designed to protect aquatic ecosystems are met.
It also means farmers won’t have to get consents for small culverts, bridges and fords. This will encourage use of more environmentally sensitive ways of getting their animals across streams. The structures still have to be built so they don’t cause flooding, worsen erosion or block fish passage.
Duck shooters and whitebait fishers won’t have to pay for consents for maimais and whitebait stands any more either – as long as they meet requirements.
There are also controls on the use of fertiliser. From 2006, farmers need a nutrient budget for their farm if they apply more than 60kg per hectare each year, complying with the industry’s own code of practice.
To control the effects of intensive indoor farming, air discharges from operations such as calf rearing will be allowed, as long as they have no objectionable effects beyond the property boundary. Consents will still be needed for piggeries and broiler chicken farms, but the process will be easier if the operation has a record of good behaviour.
All the Region’s water bodies are classified so that they can be managed to the environmental standards appropriate to their uses. For instance, those that are used for swimming have standards that ensure water is safe from bacteria and clear enough for safe swimming.
The Plan protects wetlands by restricting drainage and encouraging their enhancement, while identifying regionally significant wetlands that require protection. Efficient use of water is promoted by allowing the transfer of water permits, and providing guidelines for crop and pasture irrigation.
The Plan also uses non regulatory ways of improving water quality – For instance, the Riparian Project which is injecting $10 million over 10 years into fencing and planting stream and river banks or Project Watershed which aims to develop a long-term catchment-wide funding policy to pay for flood control, river management and soil conservation work, education and research.
The Council is also working in partnership with the agricultural industry and supporting their own initiatives such as the Market Focused system being promoted by the Dairy industry.
Environment Waikato Chairman Neil Clarke says the Regional Plan has been developed in consultation with the community and people can still appeal the Council’s decisions to the Environment Court.