Move to protect region’s water quality

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A memorandum of understanding was signed yesterday between representatives of the North Otago Irrigation Company, Waitaki Irrigation Collective and the Otago Regional Council which will go some way to protecting water quality in the district.

Plan Change 6A to the Regional Plan: Water For Otago has been in the public arena for some time as the regional council and primary industry groups have battled to find middle ground.

The memorandum is the initiative of the irrigation groups involved and signifies discretion to work with the plan to maintain water quality.

The amendments became operative on Thursday, May 1 and reflect an ‘effects-based’ approach to managing discharges to water, with a focus on controlling contaminant discharges rather than the land-use activities that create them. Discharge thresholds are set for common contaminants, like nitrates and herbicides, and land users are required to meet these.

A total of 334 submissions were received by the regional council and over 70 meetings have been held throughout Otago.

Farmers initially reacted angrily to areas of the plan fearing that their land use options would be severely restricted.

As part of the plan process leaders from all stakeholder groups have been involved in mediation with the regional council.

Chairman of the Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company, Chris Dennison, believed they had reached a good outcome.

“It leaves responsibility with the landowners, rather than a regulatory approach,” he said, ” hopefully we can continue with business as usual. I think both parties are generally happy.”

He said Lower Waitaki farmers were fortunate that the Waitaki Plains acquifer was fast-flowing and therefore easier to maintain water qualty, unlike the Kakanui valley which has an acquifer sensitive to leaching.

North Otago Federated Farmers dairy representative, Lyndon Strang, said areas like Kakanui would require far more stringent testing and monitoring and some land users will be required to apply for special consents.

Mr Strang said amendments to the ‘big impact’ issues, like silage stack and effluent discharge, were effective immediately but a lot of the plan doesn’t get implemented until 2020.

“Nationally, its been one of the smoothest plans to put through, and it’s a very workable plan,” he said.

“Sediment run-off is a huge issue and farmers will need to be seen to make a big effort in this area. Planting trees, keeping stock well back from waterways and possibly even using straw bales will help keep sediment out of waterways.”

By LINDA MCCARTHY