27 May 2015

Water and land plan worth your attention

The Southland Times

We had a good turn out and some honest discussion at Environment Southland’s public meeting in Riverton this week. This was our first meeting to explain how we are planning to use our latest science (physiographic science) in the Water and Land Plan due out in the next couple of months.

Two more meetings are planned for this coming week, one in Dipton on Monday evening and one in Mataura on Wednesday evening, both starting at 7pm. I urge you to come along and hear about it first-hand.

The Water and Land Plan will aim to ‘hold the line’ and prevent any further degradation of water quality. The physiographic science that will inform it is a major piece of work that improves our understanding of the relationships between the origin of water, soils, geology and water quality. It includes the paths water takes to both the groundwater in our aquifers and the surface water in our rivers, streams and lakes.

Ten physiographic units have been identified across Southland based on common landform and water characteristics. Each unit type has inherent issues and risks for water quality. Knowing what and where these are provides a good steer on the types of measures needed for land use activities, to improve water quality in local areas. The science is clearly telling us that one size won’t fit all.

The intention of the Water and Land Plan is to provide a framework that will enable land users to get on with their work. Much of what it covers farmers already know, including best management practices, often referred to as focus activities. Yes there will be rules, but some activities will be permitted (ie not requiring resource consent), but subject to certain conditions.

At the recent Federated Farmers AGM we committed to an extended three-month consultation period for the draft Water and Land Plan so you’ll have sufficient time to read it and provide feedback.

The Water and Land Plan will provide a good foundation for the catchment limit setting process, which is still some way off.

As a regional council it is Environment Southland’s responsibility to sustainably manage the region’s natural resources so that future generations can enjoy the same opportunities we do.

When it comes to water, we are committed to taking the time to get it right and to learn from other regions; we are seeking Southland solutions to Southland’s issues. We have a comprehensive 3-year research programme underway to understand our region, the likely economic impacts of potential policies, and our communities’ aspirations for water before we set any limits. This includes an extensive science programme, an economics project, social and cultural work streams.

We realise that farmers want to know how the limits will be applied and that this time lag will pose some difficulties for forward planning and business decisions that need to be made now. With that in mind, the Council has formulated four guiding statements based on what we know now

These guiding statements are:

1. When it comes to limit setting our approach is different to other regions. Just because something is happening elsewhere, does not _ repeat, not _ mean it will happen here.

2. There will be no pre-determination. We need all the limit-setting methods at our disposal. It’s possible that more than one method will be applied in Southland.

3. We are aiming to reduce ‘high loss’ activities. If you have high or increasing nutrient output levels, don’t assume you will be able to retain them.

4. Implementing good management practices now will make it easier for you to meet future limits. It is our expectation that all businesses, farms and councils will operate good management practices.

Turning to air quality now, the council this week endorsed an educational approach to the proposed air quality rules, including those that affect home heating. This approach is prudent given that winter is nearly upon us and people need to keep warm. Hearings for submissions to the Air Plan review begin in early June and the final version of the rules will follow later in the year.

Before I sign off I want to say a few words about Frana Cardno who admirably represented the Southland District as mayor for such a long time. I had the great privilege of attending Frana’s funeral earlier this month. It was a fitting tribute to a woman who was a fantastic, enthusiastic advocate for Southland. She was passionate about many environmental issues, always lots of fun, and a “one of a kind” politician with a fine legacy of achievements in her community, across the region, and for women in leadership.