Flow-on effect ‘Modest’ improvement to water quality from plan change

Courtesy of Fuseworks:

Horizons Regional Council has adopted recommendations that will allow some intensive farming operations to apply for resource consent – after a gap of three years.

At its strategy and policy meeting on Tuesday, councillors adopted the recommendations a three-member panel has made on rules to limit nutrient-leaching in target catchments in Tararua, Horowhenua and coastal Rangitīkei.

The recommendations stretch to more than 260 pages and will now be made public. Submitters then have 30 days to appeal the plan change to the Environment Court, based on points in their original submission.

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The way the council’s previous intensive farming rules were applied led Fish & Game and the Environmental Defence Society to take it to the Environment Court in 2017. The court declared the rules must be applied as stated.

After that, 118 dairy farms and 60 commercial vegetable growers were unable to apply for consent and they essentially continued operating without it.

Horizons and the Environment Minister got expert advice, and in 2018 Horizons decided it would have to change the rules in such a way that farmers could apply for consent.

It notified a plan change in 2019, which led to an initial 84 submissions, then another 32 submissions.

There were expert conferences on water quality and on economic and social impact, Horizons’ strategy and regulation manager Nic Peet said.

The submissions of 75 people were heard by a panel of three commissioners from October 12-22, 2020. The panel’s recommendations were released on March 19, and councillors discussed them in a workshop.

The recommendations are that the maximum nitrogen-leaching numbers in the plan be updated, in line with current and future changes to the Overseer programme that measures leaching. The numbers will be higher, but they reflect what has been happening already and will not allow for increased leaching.

About 70 per cent of farmers were expected to be able to meet them, councillor David Cotton said.

Those who could not meet the new numbers would be asked to reduce their nitrogen-leaching by up to 20 per cent over a limited time. They could do this by reducing stock numbers, or using less fertiliser, or they could graze stock off their farms, Cotton said.

They would also be expected to use agreed industry best practice.

If they could not do this, they could apply for five-year consents while they changed to a land use that created less leaching. This could particularly apply to parts of the Tararua District where there were dairy farms on heavy soil with high rainfall.

The recommendations were a significant change to the rules, Horizons chairwoman Rachel Keedwell said, but she didn’t expect many would need to change to a new land use.

If followed, the recommendations were expected to make a “modest” improvement to water quality.

“Council’s focus is to now return to implementation of the plan change and to continue to improve water quality throughout the region,” Keedwell said.

The decision changed the weighting of rules in the plan, and about 250 people were now expected to apply for consents, Peet said.

Federated Farmers and DairyNZ are happy with the plan change.

Farmers who have been in limbo would be pleased to have more certainty, Federated Farmers president Andrew Hoggard said.

The plan change is an interim measure, and any consents given under it will only last for 10 years.

Bigger plan changes are to come, because the council has until December 2024 to give effect to Government’s Essential Freshwater package.


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2 Responses to Flow-on effect ‘Modest’ improvement to water quality from plan change

  1. Tim Neville says:

    One has to be very suspicious when Federated Farmers and DairyNZ are “happy”. In this case Horizon have just shifted the goal posts after losing the game (in court). Sadly they are clearly solely on the side of the water abusers.
    Tim Neville

  2. David Haynes says:

    One rule for us, another for Horizons, who can ignore them.

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