20 Years to Comply is Not Urgency!

My recent letter to the Southland Times generally followed my earlier post and strongly condemned the National Policy Statement on freshwater management for being toothless and not enough to save the Waituna Lagoon. In today's paper Ali Timms, Environment Southland Chairwoman, expressed an entirely different view in her headlining opinion piece. Ali made a number of claims:

"It will enable us to work with the Southland District Council to make other plan changes that may be necessary to halt and eventually reverse the effects of some types of land use in the Waituna catchment."

"In practical terms, the adoption of the National Policy Statement on Fresh Water means that we will now have to revisit some of our rules, some of which are not strong enough to provide the sort of water quality and allocation regime we need in the 21st Century"

"Environment Southland is well placed to make a successful application to the fund to help pay for restorative measures to be applied within the Waituna catchment and in the lagoon."

I do hope that Ali Timms' positive take on this NPS has some validity and that her council can deliver on her claims but after reading the document and having some understanding of the situation I have some strong misgivings. 

When Ali claims that they will have the ability to halt or reverse existing land use I see a major barrier in this direct quote from the Policy (especially the last sentence):

Policy B7 and direction (under section 55) to regional councils
By every regional council amending regional plans (without using the process in Schedule 1) to the extent needed to ensure the plans include the following policy to apply until any changes under Schedule 1 to give effect to Policy B1 (allocation limits), Policy B2 (allocation), and Policy B6 (over-allocation) have become operative:
“1. When considering any application the consent authority must have regard to the following matters:
a) the extent to which the change would adversely affect safeguarding the life-supporting capacity of fresh water and of any associated ecosystem and
b) the extent to which it is feasible and dependable that any adverse effect on the life-supporting capacity of fresh water and of any associated ecosystem resulting from the change would be avoided.
2. This policy applies to: a) any new activity and b) any change in the character, intensity or scale of any established activity –
that involves any taking, using, damming or diverting of fresh water or draining of any wetland which is likely to result in any more than minor adverse change in the natural variability of flows or level of any fresh water, compared to that which immediately preceded the commencement of the new activity or the change in the established activity (or in the case of a change in an intermittent or seasonal activity, compared to that on the last occasion on which the activity was carried out).
3. This policy does not apply to any application for consent first lodged before the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management takes effect on 1 July 2011.”

It appears there are no retrospective powers provided to regional councils to deal with any overstocking allowed under an earlier consent and I can imagine a flood of applications for increased stock numbers hitting councils before July 1. Despite the multiple references in the NPS in support of the value of wetlands there appears to be no way to change the current intensive land use in wetland catchments that would reverse the levels of contaminants that threaten them.

When you compare the freshwater policy with that of air quality (below) there is quite a contrast in approaches. With air quality there are strong directives around what constitutes reasonable limits in emissions and very clear management guidelines when these are exceeded. When regional councils aren't expected to be fully compliant with freshwater policy until 2030, the almost 20 year time span appears to lack the urgency required.

  • No resource consent will be granted where that consent is the primary source of exceedances for fine particles. All resource consent decisions must take into account the net result of all activities and decisions taken towards improvement of air quality in their region. This allows for regional councils to consider future reductions expected as a result of other initiatives (e.g. replacement of open fires and inefficient wood burners) when considering a particle discharge from new industry.
  • Councils with non-complying air quality will be expected to meet a 'deemed plan' for improvement, where they will show a linear path to compliance with no more than one exceedances of 50µg/m3 by 2013. Only where they meet that linear path are they able to approve significant emissions of fine particles. Councils may construct their own plan for a trajectory better than that linear path.
  • After 2013, Councils will not be able to grant new discharge consents for emissions of fine particles into non-complying areas.
The $15 million dollars of contestable funds to reverse current degradation may have Waituna written all over it, but I'm sure regional councils across the country will have the same view about their own trouble spots (and there are many). When you consider that the Waituna had access to the $8.8 million the Greens got into the 2007 budget and it still wasn't enough, puts this potential windfall into perspective. And when you also consider that the Government has gifted a private yacht race challenger $35 million, the $15 million set aside to clean our fresh water seems a pittance. 

I do hope I am proved wrong and that Ali Timms and her council can implement some useful changes to our local regulations and enforce them effectively, but I'm not holding my breath.  


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