Horizons Regional Council decides approach for giving effect to Central Government’s freshwater reforms

At their Strategy and Policy committee meeting today, Horizons Regional Council approved additional expenditure of up to $200,000 from Council’s 2020-21 general rates reserves to support the first year of an implementation programme to give effect to central government’s Essential Freshwater package.

Minister for the Environment Hon David Parker announced the Action for Healthy Waterways package on 28 May, with the amended policy documents released for gazettal on 5 August.

From 3 September 2020, the revised National Policy Statement (NPS-FM), new National Environmental Standards (NES-FW) for freshwater management, and Resource Management Act s360 regulations for stock exclusion and measurement and reporting of water takes came into effect.

Horizons strategy and regulation group manager Dr Nic Peet says Council officers are currently analysing the new requirements against Horizons’ Regional Policy and Regional Plan (collectively referred to as the One Plan), which sets out an integrated management framework for management of the environment.

“While the One Plan covers many of the same areas as the new requirements, changes will be required to give effect to the new national direction. A revised Regional Policy Statement and Regional Plan needs to be in place by 2024,” says Dr Peet.

“There is much to be done to deliver this package within the ambitious timeframes set. Where possible, resourcing required to support the initial stages of implementation is being sought from existing budgets, largely through re-prioritisation of other activities.

“There is however, a need for more immediate policy and planning support that is not able to be accommodated due to resources being allocated to the Plan Change 2 process.

Cr Keedwell says Council has supported additional funding of $200,000 from general rate reserves for the 2020-21 financial year.

“This funding will provide the necessary policy, community engagement and project support to enable Council to undertake the first phase of iwi and community engagement as part of the NPS-FM values and limit setting process,” says Cr Keedwell.

“Further implementation costs will be considered through Horizons 2021-31 Long-term Plan (LTP) process, however early indications suggest the estimated cost will be over $10 million and up to $15 million over the first three to four years. This includes resourcing for science and policy, as well as iwi capacity and advice and community engagement.”

Dr Peet says the NPS-FM directs regional councils, in consultation with their communities, to set objectives for the state of fresh water bodies in their regions and to set limits on resource use to meet these objectives. This applies to all freshwater, including groundwater, and to any receiving environments affected by freshwater such as estuaries and the wider coastal marine area.

“We are planning to engage with all of our communities in early 2021. This includes policy and planning provisions relating to Te Ao Māori, water, land, and coast, as well as aspects of indigenous biological diversity and contaminated land,” says Dr Peet.

“Staff have already begun to engage with iwi, primary sector representatives and other stakeholders who have a direct interest in these freshwater reforms.

“Another priority is working with landowners on the immediate requirements with regards to new NES-FW regulations, including such as stock exclusion, winter grazing, and feedlots being a priority.

“We are also working with our regional council counterparts and relevant agencies such as the Ministry for the Environment, Ministry for Primary Industries, and industry groups to ensure consistent advice is provided, where possible.

“We appreciate landowners want direction as soon as possible. The most significant issues of immediate concern in our region are intensive winter grazing and stockholding areas.

“We will be continuously updating our website with guidance as it comes to hand, however encourage landowners to be proactive in understanding their obligations.”

Cr Keedwell says Council has a strong understanding of the region’s freshwater resources. This is due, in part, to Council’s comprehensive monitoring, research and science programmes.

“We also have well established non-regulatory programmes and have been working with landowners, iwi, and community groups on fencing, riparian planting, effluent management, and biodiversity initiatives for decades,” says Cr Keedwell.

“Horizons’ Sustainable Land Use Initiative includes voluntary Whole Farm Plans. A big part of the Whole Farm Plans success has been Council’s ability to subsidise landowners, enabling on-farm environmental work to be done sooner. This includes identifying key issues such as using fertiliser effectively, which can help bring down nutrient leaching on farms.

“The recent Jobs for Nature funding we received will help us to accelerate fencing and planting, and fish passage remediation programmes we already had underway. The $18 million package also includes the construction of a wetland and other water quality interventions for Lake Horowhenua.

“Central government’s freshwater reforms sets a clear direction – stop the degradation of our waterways. We all want the same thing, to improve the quality of New Zealand’s rivers, lakes, streams, estuaries, and wetlands. Horizons, and our regional council counterparts across the country, are a key part of the solution.

“The NPS-FM process, in particular, provides an opportunity to revisit our collective vision for freshwater in our region. We are looking forward to engaging with our communities and hearing their views on how we will give effect to the new policies over the next few years.”