Waikato Regional Council remains on track to meet new Government water quality-related requirements despite a tightened up timeframe for achieving them.
This comment, from council chairperson Paula Southgate, follows a report to the strategy and policy committee on the Government’s newly released National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM) 2014. This brought forward the date by which councils had to implement the NPS-FM requirements from 2030 to 2025.
“Under our current programme, we and our iwi partners are making good progress towards implementing the NPS-FM by 2023, so we are moving ahead on meeting the new requirements well within even the new deadline,” said Ms Southgate.
“There are many challenges to be addressed as we move ahead but I am happy with the strong co-operation occurring between ourselves, iwi, the farming sector and other stakeholders on improving water quality in our region.”
Under the NPS-FM, a national objective framework outlines how councils are to go about setting objectives, policies and rules for fresh water in their regional plans by 2025. This includes goal-setting and communities making decisions about the timeframes for meeting goals. Councils are required to maintain or improve water quality and cannot set an objective below a national bottom line. In Waikato’s case, the Crown-iwi Vision and Strategy for the Waikato and Waipa rivers, which sets an even higher water quality standard, must be given effect to.
Commenting on the new 2025 deadline, the report said the council would implement the NPS-FM by setting limits and targets for water quality in a phased series of regional plan changes. The first will involve the Waikato and Waipa river catchments under the Healthy Rivers: Plan for Change/Wai Ora: He Rautaki Whakapaipai project. This will be followed by work on rivers in Coromandel and Hauraki, and then the West Coast.
The report noted the particular challenge of how more than half of the Waikato River catchment’s lowland lakes had water quality that did not meet NPS-FM national bottom lines in at least one respect. Many of these lakes are within the scope of the Healthy Rivers/Wai Ora project and communities would need to decide how the lakes would be managed to bring them up to the minimum standard over time.
The report also said sampling protocols for measuring dissolved oxygen levels, essential for fish health, in waterways would require “substantial additional monitoring effort”. An analysis of the likely extra costs involved would be carried out.