Items of interest from this week’s meetings of the Council’s two key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
The two Committees generally meet every six weeks, on the same day.
Each committee is made up of Councillors and external members, including representatives nominated by Iwi.
Taranaki rivers and streams holding their own
Latest monitoring results show Taranaki is maintaining the significant improvements in freshwater ecological health that it has won in recent years, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The monitoring report for the 2017-18 year noted that even allowing for natural year-to-year fluctuations at a few places, the latest long-term trends showed significant improvements at 27 of 59 sites monitored by the Council, and no significant decline at any of them. Ecological health is the Council’s prime measure of freshwater quality and is assessed by examining what sort of tiny creatures are living in waterways, using a nationally recognised scoring system. Predictive modelling for the region, developed externally by New Zealand’s foremost expert in the field, shows that Taranaki sites are now significantly better than expectations much more often instead of below the line, the Committee was told. All but three of the monitored sites are also well above the level at which the Government requires intervention, with the exceptions being relatively small coastal streams. Strong improvements have been recorded in Mangati Stream at Bell Block, in the upper and mid reaches of the Kaūpokonui Stream, the Kurapete Stream and the upper and mid Kapoaiaia Stream. It is most encouraging that improvements are occurring across the full length of catchments, the Committee was told, and further gains could be expected as riparian fencing and planting increases and plants mature, and as more dairy farms switched to land-based effluent disposal, as required by the Council.
Lessons for farmers, managers and investors
The region’s dairy sector groups are being urged to heed the lessons from a recent Council prosecution that resulted in fines totalling $204,000 for unauthorised discharges of dairy effluent and silage leachate, the Consent & Regulatory Committee was told. The case highlighted the fact that all parties involved with a dairy farm – including any passive investors not normally involved in day-to-day operations – have a duty of care to ensure environmental and legal obligations are met. The fines were handed down by Judge Brian Dwyer in the Environment Court against three parties involved with an Ōkato farm where the discharges occurred in April, May and June last year. In his sentencing notes, Judge Dwyer said the dairy effluent discharges arose from a ‘high degree of carelessness’ and the silage leachate discharges arose from a ‘significant degree of carelessness’. There was also a history of non-compliance. Judge Dwyer also noted that fines of up to $600,000 were available for judges to impose on companies and he saw ‘the likelihood of increased penalty levels in the reasonably near future’ if the courts regularly see dairy effluent offending.
Region doing its bit for biodiversity
Taranaki is well placed to support and implement a new national action plan to stop the destruction of indigenous biodiversity and enable ecosystems to recover and thrive, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The Council is already pursuing these goals with a range of activities including Towards Predator-Free Taranaki, the Riparian Management Programme, the Key Native Ecosystem Programme, its protection of wetlands, its Environmental Enhancement Grants and other funding programmes and its Sustainable Land Mangement Programme and STRESS programme in the eastern hillcountry. Stronger provisions for the protection of indigenous biodiversity and threatened species are also likely to be included in the Council’s resource management plans as they are reviewed and revised. The national biodiversity action plan, called Aotearoa Deal for Nature, arose out of national state of the environment report in April noting that almost 4000 native species are currently threatened with or at risk of extinction. The action plan, which was developed by the Jane Goodall Institute with Forest and Bird, WWF, Greenpeace, the Environmental Defence Society and the Environmental and Conservation Organisation, is yet to be formally adopted by the Government, the Committee was told.
Taranaki drinking water fit for purpose
Taranaki communities enjoy a high standard of drinking water and all of the agencies involved in its supply are working together well, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. A Ministry of Health report on drinking water quality in the 2017-2018 year found the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders served by network supplies receive water that is verifiably safe to drink. The same applies in Taranaki, where water is supplied by the three district councils and one community-based operation. They are part of a networking group, which also includes the Taranaki Regional Council and the Taranaki District Health Board. After many years of informal operation, the network was formalised into the Taranaki Drinking Water Joint Working Group as a result of the inquiry into drinking-water contamination at Havelock North. The Government is considering changes to the drinking-water regime, including the possible establishment of a national regulator, and the Council awaits developments with interest, the Committee was told.
Making the region’s voice heard
The Council has had another busy year of advocacy work on behalf of the region in national forums or in response to initiatives and proposals by other agencies, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. Twenty-six formal submissions were made on a number of central government policy initiatives, including freshwater quality and climate-change legislation, the latter being reflected in the bill that has ultimately gone to Parliament. The Committee was told that there can be little or no formal feedback on the Council’s submissions but senior staff receive positive anecdotal feedback and assurances that some changes have been made as a result. The Council is also active among its peers, working with relevant colleagues from other Councils on specific issues and with Local Government New Zealand on wider issues and submissions on behalf of the sector as a whole.