A proposed new policy which aims to maintain water quality where it is good and improve it where it has deteriorated in Otago's rivers, streams, and lakes, was notified on Saturday (March 31).
Plan Change 6A to the Otago Water Plan includes rules to control the pollution entering rural waterways from runoff, leaching, and farm drains. It ushers in a new era of water management for the Otago region.
The proposed rules have been developed with an effects-based approach in mind and are intended to protect good water quality into the future and improve it where necessary.
ORC chairman Stephen Woodhead said the changes recognised the variability in climate, land use, and water quality throughout the region.
There has been a lengthy process to get to this point. In 2010, ORC released the Rural Water Quality Strategy, which outlined a new approach to managing rural discharges to water. The focus was on controlling contaminants discharging from land to water, instead of controlling land use activities and nutrient inputs via resource consents.
Cr Woodhead said this approach, now embodied in the proposed plan change, included the setting of maximum discharge limits for common rural contaminants, such as bacteria, sediment, phosphorus, and nitrogen. It also specified that discharges from land should be within those limits.
"The proposals are innovative and quite different from how water is being managed in other parts of the country. This work, along with our other work on water allocation and minimum flow setting, will give Otago a modern and responsive framework for ensuring waterways are well managed."
"Our intent is that these policies will ensure the economic use of land can continue and the community is able to safely use waterways for activities such as swimming, mahinga kai, boating, and fishing."
"The work we have been doing in recent years amounts to some of the most comprehensive water management in the country," Cr Woodhead said.
"The proposed rules give land managers the flexibility to implement whatever practical changes they think are needed to meet the discharge limits, using whichever practices they think will achieve this. It means they have increased responsibility, but also much less of a burden than if we'd taken a costlier and more interventionist land use control or consent approach."
Cr Woodhead said discharges which have an obvious adverse effect on receiving water, or from disturbed land, become prohibited under the proposed plan change.
Discharges to water from animal waste systems, silage storage, or composting processes are also prohibited.
Cr Woodhead said the policy development was launched by a series of water forums at Cromwell, Balclutha, and Oamaru held in 2010 and again in 2011. Last year's forums were supplemented by an extensive round of consultation meetings held around the region, attended by several hundred people.
"As a council, we've been impressed and encouraged by the level of public engagement in this policy. We hope that will continue during the submission process and the subsequent hearing process, for everyone's benefit."
The plan change is now open for public comment with submissions closing on May 2.