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FAQs - Allocation status and hydrology

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What is surface water?

Surface water is any water present on the land surface, and includes water in streams, rivers, creeks, drains, lakes and wetlands (i.e. where water is present on top of the ground).

It also includes water that comes from springs (even if you dig into the spring to install your intake) and water within cave systems, but does not include any geothermal water or coastal water.

What is groundwater?

Groundwater is any water taken from a bore or well. That includes any dug, driven or drilled well.

What is “allocable flow”?

For surface water, each waterbody in the Waikato region has been given a percentage of water that can be allocated out to water users in certain situations. This ensures there is always an “environmental flow” in a waterway to make sure the value of the waterbody isn’t harmed (e.g. aquatic life, water quality).

During periods of low summer flows the minimum flow is used to implement water shortage restrictions, where the amount taken from the river is reduced. When the river’s flow is higher the minimum flow in combination with the higher river flow provides flow variability, which is important for the functioning of the river system, e.g. removing sediment and weed growths.

There are three tiers of allocable flow:

Primary allocable flow is the high reliability allocation available in each waterway. It is specified for each waterway in Table 3-5 of the Waikato Regional Plan. On average, it is likely only once in every five years that restrictions on the primary allocable flow would be required to minimise degradation of the minimum flow.

Secondary allocable flow is a lower reliability allocation available in many waterways. Water taken under the secondary allocable flow is likely to be restricted, on average, every second year to minimise degradation of the minimum flow and impacts on primary allocable flow users. Secondary allocable flow is not available in some catchments, including the Waikato River main stem.

When a waterbody is above the median flow, up to 10 per cent of the flow at that time can be allocated out as a water harvesting allocation. This will usually be during winter months, and if water is required for summer use, storage will be required. This is not available in the Waikato River catchment upstream of the Karapiro Dam. For information on allocation limits from groundwater, please see “What is sustainable yield?” below.

What is “sustainable yield”?

This is the amount of fresh water that can be taken from an aquifer and maintained indefinitely without causing adverse effects on the values in that aquifer. It is the groundwater equivalent to surface water allocable flows.

At present there are no sustainable yields set on groundwater, though there is a process to gather scientific evidence to set these. They will only be set after a public plan change process, and are not expected to be set in the next few years. An assessment of sustainable yield is made for each groundwater consent on a case by case basis.

How is allocation for a surface water catchment determined?

Each surface waterbody had an allocation limit set for it as part of the Variation 6 process. These are outlined in Table 3-5 of the Waikato Regional Plan.

Scientific work then estimated the volume of water that was already being taken out of that surface waterway under s14(3)(b) of the RMA (stock water and domestic supply), permitted activity rules and for dairy shed use. This has been built into the “Allocation Calculator” as “permitted use”, and therefore this portion of flow is not available to be allocated out.

Consented takes from that surface waterway are then included in the calculator. This defines how much water is being taken from the waterway, and hence the current allocation status of that surface water catchment.

For further information, see Policy 3 of the above link, and the glossary for the definitions of “authorised water take” and “net take”.

I’m in an over-allocated or fully allocated surface water catchment. What do the water allocation rules mean for me?

Water takes for milk cooling and shed wash down that existed prior to October 2008 are given special provisions under the new water allocation rules, even in fully or over-allocated catchments. These takes are “grandparented” to the volume of water taken prior to 2008 (see FAQ section on ‘Rules and consent processes’.)

If you only need your grandparented (prior to October 2008) volume, surface water take applications in fully or over-allocated catchments must be in prior to 1 January 2015 to secure this water. If you do not apply by this date then you are not guaranteed access to this volume of water, and will be governed by the same rules as all other parties seeking water in the catchment.

For fully or over-allocated catchments this means your application will be processed under the “first in, first served” principle for all the water you use in your dairy shed. Ultimately the risk is that you may not be able to secure legal access to your water supply.

If you have intensified or converted since October 2008, the extra water you need cannot be guaranteed to you like grandparented water is. You will be governed by the same rules as all other parties seeking water in the catchment, and may not be able to obtain consent to take water. For fully or over-allocated surface water catchments this means your application will be processed under the “first in, first served” principle.

Grandparented groundwater take applications do not have a deadline, but as they are currently unauthorised, an application should be made prior to 1 January 2015.

How do you know if a bore affects surface water?

Policy 12 (w) of the water allocation chapter 3.3 (“Variation 6”) of the Waikato Regional Plan includes guidance on bores that are considered to have a physical separation from surface water bodies that is large enough to ensure the surface water body will not be impacted by any lowering of the groundwater table from pumping. To determine this, you need to know the depth to the water table (groundwater level), and the width and depth of the nearby stream.

Additionally, Policy 12 (x) states that all groundwater takes upstream of Karapiro that exceed 15 cubic metres per day (excluding those for stock watering and domestic supply) will be assessed as having an effect on surface water. This is unless the consent applicant can provide scientific evidence that the groundwater is not connected to surface water. We suggest specialist advice is sought if you wish to pursue this line of reasoning.

If a groundwater take is found to affect surface water, any consent may have additional conditions placed on it in line with surface water take requirements (including possible requirements to plant or the imposition of water shortage conditions). In some situations a groundwater take application in a fully allocated surface water catchment may be given a lower volume of water or even be declined if the effect on that surface waterway is significant.

How do we find out about groundwater levels?

Groundwater levels (depth to water table) are very site specific and can vary considerably, even over a small area. As a starting point, gathering information based on the depth of local boreholes can be useful. This information can be seen in the maps service on this website. You may need to contact our Resource Information Group to ensure that you are measuring the water table, not the influence of a deeper aquifer.

Will Waikato Regional Council continue to refine the allocation levels and allocable flows available in surface water catchments?

Yes. Waikato Regional Council will review all primary and secondary allocable flows, as outlined in method of Variation 6.

A catchment investigation date is set for each surface water catchment throughout the region. If the investigations reveal that there are, for example, significant improvements in water quality which could enable more water to be allocated out for stream users, the allocable flow could be reviewed.

How will Waikato Regional Council use the data received from meters to improve the efficiency of allocation?

In order to effectively manage a resource, you first have to understand it. At present our view on water use in the Waikato region is based largely on estimates backed up with statistical analysis. The data provided as a condition of your consent will enable us to better understand what the actual volume of water being taken throughout the region is.

As more is understood about the actual water use and when water is being taken, we will then be in a position to more effectively manage the resource. For example this might be by identifying times of the year that some water users are not taking water, and therefore allowing other users to access the water at these times.

What happens to water allocation beyond 2015 for new consents?

Dairy farmers who apply for consent under the controlled activity rule prior to 1 January 2015 are likely to get a consent for 15 years. While there will be some review conditions within a consent granted, it is likely that the volume of water they are allocated through this process will remain available to them for the full 15 years.

After this time, any farmer, existing or new, will need to apply for a new consent. Those applications will be assessed against the policy at that time, which may have changed by then (we are required by law to review our plans every 10 years – this is a public process where anyone can have a say as to how we allocate water). However current policy provides some certainty to farmers that their supply is likely to be re-consented:

  • Our policies and central government are directing us to seek that by 2030 no catchments will be over-allocated. So consents coming up for renewal around this time may find we‟ve already cut back on other water users.
  • At the time of re-consenting, those water takes that were “existing authorised takes” are given a more favourable activity status, so are more likely to be approved than any new take.

 In the Waikato Regional Plan, Method outlines the ways that Waikato Regional Coucil will seek to phase out over-allocation. (l) states that “where the allocation for milk cooling and dairy shed wash down ...results in allocation exceeding 100% of the primary allocable flow... the Council may as a priority reduce that overallocation by reducing the amount of water allocated by existing consents to other dairy sector production land use activities (including pasture irrigation) before applying shared reduction across all other sectors”. This method suggests an inclination for water takes consents to be granted for water use in dairy shed in preference to other dairy sector uses.