Waikato Regional Council chairman Peter Buckley says the Auditor-General’s comments released today on Waikato water quality highlight the issues the council has been working to address.
“We shared our concerns about these issues with the Auditor-General’s office when they were compiling their report. We are already well-advanced in addressing the areas of concern.”
Mr Buckley said an example of the council’s proactive work is the leading edge Variation 5 policy to protect Lake Taupo, which has already made significant gains in terms of reducing nitrogen leaching to the lake.
Also, the regional council is committed to working collaboratively with iwi, farmers, the agriculture industry, the Waikato River Authority and other partners on lifting the region’s water quality, he said.
“Our recent work with iwi on implementing river settlement legislation and also with Fonterra, Dairy NZ and Federated Farmers on improving farmer compliance with effluent management rules is evidence of this. We’ve also established a special land and water quality sub-committee. We’re working with Government and others in the Land and Water Forum.”
Mr Buckley said the council’s existing Regional Policy Statement says there should be no net degradation in regional water quality but it was accepted this was not particularly well defined.
“Many indicators have demonstrated this goal is not being met, a fact reinforced by the report, so we know the region needs to do much better.
“Our proposed RPS, which now includes detailed water quality objectives, seeks to instruct the council and territorial authorities to change their plans over land and water issues. It is the role of the regional plan to come up with the detail over how the policy will be implemented and how implementation will be monitored. The forthcoming scheduled review of the Waikato Regional Plan will look at more detailed ways of achieving the new policy, once it is finalised.”
Mr Buckley said the new plan could possibly include a more comprehensive consenting and regulatory regime covering agriculture’s impact on water quality.
Also, Waikato Regional Council, through Variation 6 to the regional plan, is proposing that water takes for existing milk cooling and dairy shed wash down require a controlled activity resource consent. In order to meet the conditions of the proposed controlled activity, applicants must, among other things, exclude all stock from water bodies (for example by fencing) and provide a riparian vegetation management plan for the property. This would have significant water quality benefits throughout the region. This proposal is currently before the Environment Court and a decision is expected in late 2011.
“Protecting water quality is one of the biggest issues faced by the council and we are taking up the challenges involved in a range of innovative ways,” said Mr Buckley.