Items of interest from today's meetings of the Council's two key Committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
The Consents & Regulatory Committee and Policy & Planning Committee generally meet every six weeks, on the same day. They are made up of Regional Councillors and external members.
Improvements not slowing down
The rate and extent of Taranaki’s improvements in freshwater ecological health are defying assumptions – even among Council scientists and management. The Policy and Planning Committee was told that the latest monitoring results from the Taranaki Regional Council show trends improving at 49 of the 57 monitored ring-plain sites at which changes can be determined – the most sites ever and surpassing record highs seen in the past two years. Statistically, any environmental trend can be expected to flatten out and reach a new equilibrium after a period of change, the Committee was told. But there is no sign of this happening yet in waterway ecological health trends.
Media release: Region still riding wave of water-quality gains
Slime not spreading
The Council’s waterway monitoring programmes also include a systematic series of surveys of periphyton (algae) at 21 sites in 10 regional catchments, measuring the extent of algal slime that occurs as thick streambed mats or as long, thread-like filaments. The Policy and Planning Committee was presented with a new report covering the 2016-2018 period, which found little overall change from the previous two years in the amount of thick mats, and an overall reduction in amount of filaments. The biggest improvements were sites on the upper Kapoaiaia Stream and on the Patea River downstream of Stratford’s recently upgraded wastewater treatment plant, the Committee was told.
Allocation options analysed
A new scientific report analysing the environmental impacts of different limits on freshwater flows and allowable water takes will be a valuable tool in the Council’s Freshwater Plan review, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. The report was commissioned by the Council and undertaken by an experienced consultant, Dr Ian Jowett. It draws on long-term monitoring data to model the impacts of various flow and allocation limits on fish and invertebrate populations, and on the reliability of supply for water users. Finding a balance between protection of ecological values and reliability of supply is the major challenge, the Committee was told. The new report will be discussed and used at workshops with water users, iwi and other stakeholders.
Slash shouldn't make splash
Taranaki is a low-risk region for problems such as those seen around Gisborne last month when flooding was exacerbated by forestry debris, or ‘slash’, being swept into waterways, the Consents & Regulatory Committee was told. Forestry in Taranaki is on a smaller scale than on the East Coast, and our regulatory regime, catchments and topography are also different. Problems could occur if extreme rainfall, like Gisborne’s monthly-rainfall-in-one-day deluge, occurs between harvesting and forest re-establishment. But the Council does everything it can to minimise environmental impacts. As a result of new national environmental standards for forestry, the Council has created a new position and recruited an officer to focus solely on monitoring the industry and undertaking enforcement when necessary.
More ecological jewels identified
Thirteen ecological jewels have been added to the Council’s Inventory of Key Native Ecosystems (KNEs), taking the total to 265, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The new additions range in size from one hectare to 401ha, and are located in New Plymouth and Stratford districts. Twelve are in private ownership and one is a New Plymouth District Council reserve. All KNEs have been assessed as having significant biodiversity value, be it in the habitat they offer, their flora and fauna and/or their proximity to other sites of value. The Council has worked with the owners of 117 KNEs to draw up Biodiversity Plans, under which assistance may be obtained from the Council and other agencies for fencing, predator control and revegetation. Another 23 Biodiversity Plans will be drawn up in the current financial year. Most of this work involves private land.
Careful with the carbon
The Council’s stance on the Government’s Zero Carbon Bill is outlined in a draft submission presented to the Policy & Planning Committee. The Council supports the idea of setting a target of zero emissions of long-lived greenhouse gases and stabilised emissions of short-lived gases by 2050, with provisions for staging reductions over a number of years to allow for as-yet unrealised technological advances and other unforeseen changes. The submission also points out that agriculture should be viewed as a closed-loop system, in which carbon-based greenhouses gases are sequestered as much as they are emitted. This means it would be worth investigating whether a simple tradeable cap on animal numbers nationally would be more workable and efficient than requiring emissions to be measured and accounted for at individual farm level.