Horizons and Otago Councils act on NPS

By Kim Reilly & Dr Tessa Mills

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BIG PLANTING PROGRAMME: Horizons environmental management officer Clare Ridler plants a native shrub at Pauri Lake, near Wanganui.
BIG PLANTING PROGRAMME: Horizons environmental management officer Clare Ridler plants a native shrub at Pauri Lake, near Wanganui.

Across New Zealand, regional councils are in the process of giving effect to, and implementing the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management 2011 (NPS).

Horizons and Otago Regional Council were two of the first councils off the blocks, with both now having operative plans in place following substantial appeal processes.

For Federated Farmers staff and members in these provinces, the hard work has now turned from consulting, submitting, presenting evidence and mediating to actively implementing these plans.

The Horizons One Plan, notified before the NPS, was seen by many as representing the new generation of regional plans and policy statements.

Now operational, it regulates control of normal farming practices through the application of nutrient loss limits and requires a consent to farm for intensive farming operations, which includes dairying and cropping.

Throughout the process of hearings, mediation, Environment Court and eventually the High Court, the plan travelled full circle at least twice.

Finally, following the High Court decision, and after extensive consultation between the council, primary industries and the wider community, an implementation plan was developed. This requires farmers to transition to good management practice via consent conditions tailored to suit individual farms and circumstances.

Horizons plan implementation has been slow to start, with just nine out of more than 400 consents so far lodged with the council.

Significant consultant resources are needed to ensure that any consent granted will provide both economic viability and sound nutrient management.

Although the journey has been fraught at times, it has provided some valuable lessons for other regions. Perhaps of most value was the regulator's recognition that not only do the majority of farmers do a good job, but that a sound collaborative approach empowering farmers and landowners to improve practices is preferable to clumsy regulation, which is impractical to enact and difficult to administer.

Down south in Otago, the response to the NPS was achieved through Plan Change 6A, which aims to protect good water quality while minimising constraints on land uses and the way rural people manage their land.

Under the Otago approach, most farmers will be able to continue farming without consent or the need for a farm environment plan.

It is a fairly pragmatic effects-based framework that aims to encourage farmer stewardship and promote innovation and adaptive management.

The permitted activity framework requires that by 2020, farmers are within the limits set for their zone -- (30kgN/ha/yr for most, 20kgN/ha/yr for sensitive zones, 15kgN/ha/yr in the lakes area).

As part of mediation settlement, the council has until 2020 to scientifically review the appropriateness of the 20kgN/ha/ya sensitive zone limits.

Despite the 2020 timeframe, there are things Otago farmers need to be doing now to ensure they are on target to meet these limits.

Federated Farmers will continue to work alongside the council and other stakeholders to ensure farmers have access to the information they need to assist them in meeting these expectations, now and throughout the implementation process.

Alongside our role in the Stakeholder Reference Group, we continue to actively work with the council and other industry representatives to ensure factsheets make sense, individual farmer issues and concerns are addressed and results from monitor farms and trials are well circulated.

We also await with interest the council's review of the appropriateness of the use of Overseer within the high rainfall lakes zone.

There is no shortage of work coming out of the implementation processes in both Horizons and Otago, enough to keep our staff, members and other industry professionals busy well into the future. However, it's in the best interests of us all to see that these plans succeed, in ensuring both that water quality is protected and processes are workable for farmers.

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