Items of interest from today’s meetings of two of the Council’s key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
Europeans abuzz at Taranaki scheme
Taranaki’s riparian management programme, a Council-farmer partnership to fence and plant thousands of kilometres of streambanks, was a talking point at an international conference on land use and water quality at The Hague, Netherlands, in June. The conference included a presentation on the voluntary, unsubsidised and large-scale riparian scheme, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. The scientists and policy-makers at the conference were impressed by its uptake and ecological successes, especially in contrast with Europe’s highly regulated, highly funded and highly politicised approach. A major theme to emerge at the conference was the wisdom of managing freshwater quality with tailored, targeted programmes, be they voluntary or mandatory, rather than blanket one-size-fits-all regulations. It was also clear that New Zealand is seen in Europe as having excellent water quality, a perception that is confirmed by data. In particular, New Zealanders would be staggered by the levels of nitrate contamination of groundwater in Europe.
Piggery's environmental grunt
A Lepperton piggery’s significant investments to further reduce its environmental impact were noted to the Consents and Regulatory Committee. The Lepper piggery already separates solids from its effluent to compost and convert into soil conditioner, extracts biogas from its covered effluent pond to generate electricity for the site, and takes food waste from local industry to process into stockfeed. Now it has installed new cables and pumping equipment so it can dispose of nearly half of its treated effluent to land, and new infrastructure to allow better sampling of the pond. Its approach to environmental management was rewarded in 2010 with a Taranaki Regional Council Environmental Award.
Monitoring reflects poorer summer
Monitoring of popular freshwater and coastal swimming spots last summer found higher-than-usual levels of bacteria, reflecting the season’s higher rainfall, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. More rain meant dairy effluent ponds discharged for longer and more frequently than usual, and clouds prevented the sun from breaking down bacteria. Even so, waterfowl continued to be the main culprits at the worst freshwater sites, the Waiwhakaiho River near Lake Rotomanu and the mouths of Te Henui Stream and Waimoku Stream. Excluding these, 96% of the freshwater samples met Ministry for the Environment guidelines. And while average bacteria counts at coastal sites were higher than usual, there was no increase in breaches of guidelines. The Council monitored water quality at 16 freshwater sites and 12 coastal sites between November last year and April this year.
Positive reaction to pest plan
A proposed pest-management blueprint for the region will be fine-tuned as a result of submissions from the public but in general the reaction has been positive, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. Ten submissions were received in May and June on the Council’s Proposed Regional Pest Management Plan and its associated Draft Biosecurity Strategy. Most indicated support but some sought to include or exclude specific pests from the Proposed Plan, or changes to measures and rules proposed to control particular pests. Verbal submissions will be heard in October before the Council finalises both documents. Species currently listed in the Proposed Plan are climbing spindleberry, giant reed, madeira or mignonette vine and Senegal tea (eradication species), and brushtail possums, giant buttercup, giant gunnera, gorse, kahili ginger, nodding and plumeless thistle, old man’s beard, common and purple pampas, variegated thistle, wild broom, yellow ginger and yellow ragwort (sustained control species).
More ecological jewels identified
Ten new locations, all but one in North Taranaki, have been added to the Council register of Key Native Ecosystems (KNEs), taking the total to 236, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. The new sites range from 2.5 ha to 8.3 ha, with five in or near New Plymouth, one near Lepperton, three near Urenui and one near Hawera. All are privately owned except for one, New Plymouth District Council’s Pukekura Park. Under the voluntary KNE programme, the Council works with interested landowners to assess sites for their ecological significance. The Council has so far prepared Biodiversity Plans for more than 100 sites, where landowners can become eligible for assistance with measures to protect and enhance their biodiversity. Typically this includes predator control, and planting.
Biodiversity efforts fine-tuned
The Council will continue and broaden its work to protect and enhance Taranaki’s ecologically special places under a reviewed Biodiversity Strategy, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. Partnerships with landowners under the Key Native Ecosystem programme have gone from strength to strength, biodiversity elements of other Council programmes have been enhanced, a successful ‘Wild for Taranaki’ alliance has been forged under the Taranaki Biodiversity Trust, and systems have been developed to gather and manage biodiversity data. These actions arose out of the Council’s first Biodiversity Strategy nine years ago, and would continue under the reviewed Strategy, especially robust support for Wild for Taranaki. There would also be a special focus on ensuring that the ecosystems given protection were representative of all the region’s ecosystems, and an investigation into expanding the Self-Help Possum Control Programme to include other predators. The Biodiversity Strategy differs from similar high-level documents because it is not a legal requirement, and focuses largely on non-regulatory programmes and activities. Work on the review is continuing.