Items of interest from today's meetings of two of the Council's key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
Contrasts noted as reports analysed
Two recent high-profile national reports on water quality took contrasting approaches, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. One, by the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor, Professor Sir Peter Gluckman, was described as carefully considered, well-researched, informative and authoritative, emphasising the complex nature of freshwater management and the absence of ‘silver bullets’ to easily address outstanding issues. Sir Peter’s report also notes with approval the riparian fencing and planting occurring in Taranaki, the Committee was told. “There is strong alignment between much of what the Council is undertaking and promoting, and the stance taken by Sir Peter at a number of points,” a staff analysis said. “The Council will find much in the paper that validates the Council’s approach.” In contrast, the ‘Our Fresh Water’ report by Ministry for the Environment and Stats NZ takes a more restricted approach, setting out problems and issues but not discussing the measures being taken in response. “Councils within New Zealand and countries around the world routinely report on environmental quality using a ‘pressure-state-response’ model,” a staff analysis said. “This ... provides a more comprehensive and meaningful reporting mechanism.” The ‘Our Fresh Water’ report also notes that its authors adjusted Regional Council data to present a standardised national overview. People wanting accurate and scientifically verified data on particular regions such as Taranaki should consult the relevant Regional Council reports.
Freshwater trends remain positive
The physical and chemical state of the regional waterways continues to generally improve over the longer term, even with fluctuations from year to year, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. Latest monitoring results, for the 2015-2016 year, showed nitrogen levels, turbidity, clarity and levels of suspended solids were generally better than usual, but the opposite was true of ammonia and dissolved reactive phosphorus levels. The latter results were possibly caused by a drier summer and autumn, reducing the dilution of discharges because river flows were lower than normal. Longer-term trends, derived from 21 years worth of data, remain encouraging with a clear pattern of results becoming more positive as time passes. Improvements are even more pronounced in the past seven to 10 years. The Council has been monitoring the physical and chemical state of waterways since 1995. It currently collects data from 13 sites, having recently expanded its network to ensure region-wide coverage. A further two sites are monitored by NIWA.
Consciousness of streams
Council staff have worked with industry in New Plymouth and Bell Block to reduce the impact of their stormwater on waterways, the Consents and Regulatory Committee was told. As a result of discussions and suggestions at the time consents were being renewed, eight companies had introduced new systems to recycle or otherwise divert process water and/or wash water to keep it out of the stormwater system. Some of the improvements had gone beyond consent requirements. These developments demonstrated the value of Council staff taking a proactive and constructive approach when dealing with consent holders, particularly where a single waterway receives discharges from a number of small industrial sites. The companies involved included Firth Industries Ltd, First Gas Ltd, Energyworks Litd, Weatherford NZ Ltd, Freight and Bulk Transport Ltd, Taranaki Sawmills Ltd, Fitzroy Engineering Group Ltd and Tegel Foods Ltd.
Dung beetles a matter for farmers
Any large-scale programme to bring dung beetles to the region ought to be funded mostly by farmers, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. The Council has spent $10,000 on a trial release of the insects, whose presence can reduce nitrogen leaching and improve the quality of soil and freshwater. The Committee was told that it would cost an estimated $325,000 a year over 20 years to establish dung beetle populations on every dairy farm in the region and this should be funded by farmers as they would be the ones to benefit. This was the case in other programmes such as the Council’s Riparian Management Scheme, in which farmers pay for plants and implementation costs. The Committee agreed that dung-beetle releases in Taranaki to date should be monitored for evidence that populations are becoming well established and growing, and that farmers should fund most of the cost of any extension programme.