New freshwater regulations a major challenge

The region will face major challenges in implementing and working with new Government freshwater regulations, says the Taranaki Regional Council.

The Chair, David MacLeod, says the new requirements will add complexity and cost to the resource consenting process and consent compliance, as well as ratepayer-funded environmental monitoring.

“We don’t have any option but to implement the new measures, so the challenge is finding the smartest and most efficient way forward,” he says.

The latest regulations were announced this month as part of the Government’s ‘Action for Healthy Waterways’ programme. More new regulations are expected in the coming months and years.

“We all want the same thing, which is healthier rivers and streams,” says Mr MacLeod. “The key question is how we get there. This region has already been rising to the challenge and making encouraging progress on freshwater quality. But our resilience and resourcefulness are about to be tested further.”

The Government’s initial Action for Healthy Waterways proposals last year included nutrient limits widely seen as unworkable, the use of the farm management tool OverseerFM in a regulatory setting it’s not designed for, blanket ‘swimmability’ requirements and inflexible stock-exclusion requirements that threatened to undermine progress under Taranaki’s successful Riparian Management Programme.

“We made a very strong submission, as did others, and the Government substantially modified or put a hold on many of its original proposals,” says Mr MacLeod. “But the newly announced regulations are still far-reaching.”

The new regulations require increased environmental monitoring, for which the Council will need extra specialist staff and equipment, and more monitoring sites. They also widen the range of activities requiring resource consents, and tighten conditions for many existing consents. Some of the new measures take effect from 3 September.

“Council staff are still working through the details and assessing what the new regulations will mean for Taranaki’s farmers and industry, and for regional ratepayers,” says Mr MacLeod.

“The Council will be emailing the rural sector next week with more details. If your farm or business is planning operational changes or new developments involving any aspect of freshwater or waterways, you should check whether any new requirements will apply. That applies even if you haven’t needed a resource consent for such work in the past. It will be important to talk to Council staff.”

The Ministry for the Environment is yet to provide guidance on the new regulations, and sector groups are also developing specific material for their members.

Mr MacLeod says additional regulations are on their way and they are also likely to involve extra complexities and costs.

“It’s disappointing when there’s been a huge community buy-in to the effort to improve this region’s waterways, and good results are being achieved. Our geography, hydrology and geology are unique in New Zealand. Clumsy one-size-fits-all national regulations are unlikely to result in much more progress, despite their cost to the region.

“But we can’t ignore them. We have a history of meeting challenges with the most effective and pragmatic solutions that suit this region. Now we must do it again.”