Nutrient Management and Waitaki Plan Change appeals

Environment Canterbury has received a High Court decision made with the consent of all parties on appeals made in relation to the Nutrient Management and Waitaki Plan Change, Plan Change 5 to the Land & Water Regional Plan.

Councillor Peter Skelton said the regional council would now decide on the timing of next steps which will lead to the plan change becoming operative.

“We welcome the fact that we are now nearing the end of a three-year process that will see this significant instrument become fully effective in the near future,” Professor Skelton said. “We will be making sure that all those affected, especially farmers, are clear on what the rules will mean for them and their farming practices.”

The plan change deals with the effects of land use, particularly farming activities, on water quality at a region-wide level, and ensures the effective management of water quality in the Waitaki sub-region.

When operative, the nutrient management rules will apply in all catchments in the region not currently the subject of sub-region plans.

Setting environmental standards 

The plan change sets industry agreed “Good Management Practice” as the minimum standard for all farming activities.

“Resource consent, including audited Farm Environment Plans, will be required if properties irrigate more than 50 hectares or have more than a specified amount of winter grazing of cattle, depending on property size,” Professor Skelton said.

“The nutrient management rules are intended to address the effects of changing land use and promote improved water quality outcomes throughout the region.

“With this in mind, we need to be clear about what constitutes Good Management Practice on a farm.  Industry groups have now described what this means for their sector.

As a starting point, farmers should have a baseline nitrogen leaching rate that reflects Good Management Practice. “This is a requirement for farms requiring a resource consent,” Professor Skelton said. “Permitted farms need only comply with the irrigation and winter grazing limits.”

Achieving better water quality outcomes

Implementation of good management practices responds to community expectations, and will help achieve better water quality outcomes, Professor Skelton said. “Every farmer is encouraged, and often required by the rules, to do an assessment of the environmental impacts of their farming activities. A farm environment plan is a valuable tool for doing this.”

The specific rules relating to the Waitaki catchment help deliver the local community’s aspirations for water quality.  These have been developed through the Upper and Lower Waitaki Zone Committees.  They will meet the water-quality requirements in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management in this area.

New water quality outcomes

There are new water quality outcomes and a nutrient regime for managing to those outcomes.  The plan change aims to manage the effects of land use and discharges from activities such as aquaculture on water quality in the Waitaki.

Aquaculture and farming activities are both required to meet good practices, implement environment plans and avoid exceeding limits. Minimum flows for a small stream north of the Waitaki River, Whitneys Creek, are specified.

Some of the rules for the Upper Waitaki area already have legal effect, while the remainder will come into effect when the plan change becomes operative.

“Excellent progress has been made with our planning work in the last few years,” Peter Skelton concluded. “In partnership with the community, we are well on the way towards completing catchment-focused rules for the whole region.”

Background

The Nutrient Management and Waitaki Plan Change was notified for public submissions in February 2016.  Council accepted the recommendations of independent hearing commissioners in January 2017.  Eight appeals were received, three of which were withdrawn.

The Land & Water Regional Plan became largely operative in September 2015. It sets the framework to implement community aspirations for water through the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, a community led, collaborative approach to improve water outcomes throughout the region.

The Land & Water Regional Plan operates at two levels – a region-wide section and 10 sub-region sections.  The policies and rules in the sub-region sections can apply instead of, or in addition to, policies and rules in the region-wide section.  The sub-region sections implement the region-wide objectives in the plan in the most appropriate way for the catchment.

Sub-region sections that are now legally effective cover the Hurunui-Waiau, Selwyn Te Waihora, Wairewa/Lake Forsyth, Hinds Plains and Waitaki - South Coastal Canterbury catchments.