Items of interest from this week’s meetings of the Council’s two key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
The air remains clear
The latest four years of monitoring confirms that Taranaki has good to excellent air quality, with the major inhalable contaminant being wind-blown sea salt. A report to the Policy and Planning Committee set out findings of a more stringent monitoring programme that began in 2016, with detection equipment calibrated for PM2.5 (airborne particles with a diameter of 2.5 millionths of metre) rather than the larger PM10 previously measured. PM2.5 is expected to be the basis of new national standards but Taranaki can still easily meet the requirements, the Committee was told. Continuous monitoring at a central New Plymouth residential site found the air would be classed as ‘excellent’ 19% of the time, ‘good’ 77% of the time and ‘acceptable’ at all times. There was no discernible link to traffic movements but an increase was observed in winter months. No conclusions could be drawn about the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown on air quality. The PM2.5 measure covers particles hundreds of thousands of times smaller than the width of a human hair. They can remain suspended in the air for days or months, and can contribute to major health problems when regularly inhaled.
Hydrologists go with the digital flow
Technology allowing the remote collection of river-flow data has been trialled by Council hydrologists with promising results, the Consents and Regulatory Committee was told. Flow gauging is traditionally carried out manually, with the technicians wading across the river measuring water depth and flow as they go, or doing the same from a canoe. This is a labour-intensive process, and there can be logistical and safety challenges. New digital technology, however, uses still or video images to calculate surface water speeds and river flow by tracking the speed of particles and objects in the river. The Space Time Image Velocimetry (STIV) software can be deployed remotely, typically with the use of a drone, or at set intervals at a fixed site. The Council’s hydrologists have found flows calculated using this technique are in close agreement with those calculated using traditional methods. The Council is investigating the purchase of a full software licence jointly with other Councils, and is keen to expand its use to other aspects of environmental monitoring, as it is an efficient and cost-effective data-gathering tool. Accurate and timely measurements of low flows are important for determining when water-take restrictions must be imposed so that river ecosystems can be protected. And peak flood-flow data helps to ensure that any flood protection works are appropriate and effective.
Estuary collaboration proves valuable
Valuable information on two North Taranaki estuaries is being gathered in a collaborative project involving Te Rūnanga o Ngāti Mutunga, the Council, local schools and the Clifton Community Board. The project, Te Āhua o ngā Kūrei, is funded under Curious Minds, the national citizen science programme, and focuses on the Mimitangiatua (Mimi) and Urenui estuaries, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. The project has included shellfish surveys, sediment sampling and water testing, predator monitoring, cultural health assessments and a survey on community perceptions. Besides good data on shellfish populations and sedimentation, the project has also identified a sewage contamination issue which the New Plymouth District Council is investigating and working to resolve in consultation with TRC, Ngāti Mutunga and the Taranaki District Health Board. There has been good community engagement in the project and the good working relationship developed between the Council and Ngāti Mutanga is viewed as a highlight on both sides.
Iwi steps up with environmental guide
Te Atiawa’s stance on the environment and resource management is clearly laid out in a new environmental management plan, Tai Whenua, Tai Tangata, Tai Ao, the subject of an Iwi presentation to the Policy and Planning Committee. The plan is a working document intended to guide decision-making at all levels within the Iwi, and also has formal RMA status and must be taken into account in developing the Council’s policy and planning documents. The Iwi will hold workshops with Council staff to explain guiding principles, values, cultural aspects and practical implementation of the plan. It will be reviewed and updated when appropriate, and is viewed as a positive development by the Council. Four Taranaki Iwi have presented such plans to the Council over the past 10 years.
Major study puts focus on lakes
Eight South Taranaki lakes have been included in a national research project described as the biggest study of its kind ever undertaken in New Zealand. The Lakes380 project includes detailed analyses of lake waters, lake sediments, surrounding soils and vegetation, and sediment cores taken from lake beds. The researchers, led by GNS Science and the Cawthron Institute, want to find out how and why lake ecological communities and water quality have changed over time. These findings will help ensure that restoration projects and management strategies are effective, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. The eight Taranaki lakes, chosen in conjunction with relevant Iwi, are Rotokare, Kaikura, Waiau, Moumahaki, Oturi, Waikare, Mangawhio and Herengawe, with sampling already under way. Results of the study will be presented to Councillors in due course.
Biodiversity effort covers 17 more sites
The Council’s work with landowners to recognise and protect ecological jewels has expanded to 310 sites covering almost 126,500 hectares across the region, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. Of these, 257 are partly or fully privately owned and these, at 16,800 hectares, account for 26% of privately owned indigenous bush in Taranaki. Details of 17 new sites, known as Key Native Ecosystems (KNEs), were presented to the Committee today. The Council works with KNE owners to prepare Biodiversity Plans, making them eligible for assistance from the Council and other agencies for fencing, predator control and revegetation. Many KNEs are also protected with QEII covenants or similar legal instruments. The programme is non-regulatory – while many land owners take part, there is no compulsion for them to do so.
Coastal Plan progress stalls in pandemic
Environment Court-organised mediation in February reached agreement on a number of matters raised in appeals against the Council’s proposed Coastal Plan, The Policy and Planning Committee was told. These covered matters relating to the approach to coastal management, infrastructure and industry, structures and biodiversity. Further mediation was scheduled for late March but was cancelled due to the pandemic alert. Ten submitters had lodged appeals, and 19 organisations had registered as parties to the proceedings. The latter are mainly submitters but also include two parties that had not previously been involved, the Fisheries Ministry and a combined fishing industries group. More progress can be expected in future mediation sessions, the Committee was told. Following the mediation an Environment Court hearing may be required to address matters that remain unresolved.
Pest plant tackled from all angles
Specialist abseiling contractors were called in to help knock back old man’s beard, an invasive climbing pest-plant, on a near vertical section of the Waingongoro River bank. The Council has embarked on a multi-year programme to bring the plant under control along the length of the river, where the infestation has been so dense and difficult that until now, landowners have been exempt from rules requiring its control. Under the Waingongoro programme, Council contractors are knocking the plant back to a level where it is reasonable to put the onus on landowners to keep it under control. So far, initial control has been completed along 26km of river bank in four of a planned 10 stages, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. The remaining 44km is expected to be completed by 2026. Old man’s beard is one of the most damaging and invasive climbing plants in New Zealand, and is a significant threat to indigenous species in Taranaki.