Items of interest from this week’s meetings of the Council’s two key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
Freshwater revisions welcome but details awaited
The Government has announced significant changes to its ‘Action for Healthy Waterways’ package that appear to have addressed many of the serious concerns initially raised by the Council and numerous others, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. Full implications will be difficult to assess until detailed regulatory documents are available, but the regional community will still face impacts. Among other amendments, the Government has: put on hold for at least a year a decision on nitrogen and phosphorus limits, for which its initial proposals were widely seen as unworkable; decided against using the OverseerFM farm management tool in a regulatory setting; indicated that ‘swimmability’ targets will apply only to places where people swim, and when they swim; and eased up on inflexible stock-exclusion requirements that had threatened to undo much of what has already been achieved in Taranaki. In its submission on the original proposals, the Council had warned the Government that they would have imposed major costs on Taranaki for unpredictable and probably only marginal gains in freshwater quality.
A new pre-emptive watch-list contains 21 pest species to be the target of proactive surveillance and contingency planning by the Council in a bid to prevent them becoming established in Taranaki, the Policy and Planning Committee was told. The species are not known to be here yet but are already in nearby regions. And they could survive in Taranaki, with significant adverse impacts likely, the Committee was told. Proactive, targeted surveillance programmes will be developed for each species, and detailed response plans will be drawn up in case of any incursions. The public is urged to contact the Council if they see any of the 21 watch-list species. These are alligator weed, Asian paddle crab, Australian droplet tunicate, bat-wing passion flower, broom corn millet, brown bullhead catfish, Chilean needle grass, clubbed tunicate, dama wallaby, Darwin ants, eastern water dragon, eel grass, koi carp, Mediterranean fanworm, purple loosestrife, pyp grass, salvinia, sea spurge, tench, velvetleaf and water poppy. The watch list arises from the Council’s 2018-2038 Biosecurity Strategy, the Committee was told. It signals an increased focus on new pests as well as the 17 ‘legacy pests’ for which there are already eradication or control programmes that put obligations on land occupiers.
Size counts when it comes to freshwater takes
A new study of Taranaki waterways has concluded that those classed as ‘small’ or ‘very small’ are the most vulnerable to over-use and need strict allocation limits to protect in-stream habitats. The report follows on from earlier work by the same consultant examining the environmental impacts of different limits on freshwater flows and allowable water takes. This work is feeding into the development of the proposed new Natural Resources Plan for Taranaki, to eventually replace the current air, soil and freshwater plans. The Policy & Planning Committee was told that the new report arose out of consultation with the Wai Māori Working Group after the first report was produced. It is based on a nationally used size classifications under which 95% Taranaki waterways are classed as ‘small’ (mean flow below 5 cubic metres a second) or ‘very small’ (below 1), while only one, the Waitara River, is classed as ‘large’ (at least 30). About 4% are classed as ‘moderate’ (5 to 30). The new report found no technical basis for different default flow limits for ‘small’ versus ‘very small’ streams but that both categories should have less water taken from them to ensure that instream protection levels are high.
Air monitoring nixes NOx as hazard for Taranaki
The Council’s ongoing monitoring of nitrogen oxides levels continues to show Taranaki has good to excellent air quality, even near major industrial facilities, the Consents & Regulatory Committee was told. Nitrous oxides include nitrogen oxide, nitrogen dioxide and nitrous oxide (NOx being the collective scientific shorthand), which can damage human health and the environment. Their levels in Taranaki have been monitored since 1993. In the latest survey, absorption discs were placed at 30 sites for three weeks. Most of the sites are near major industrial facilities, particularly in the oil and gas sector, but also include a couple of urban sites on main highways. Results for the 2019-2020 monitoring programme were well within national standards, continuing the pattern of previous years, the Committee was told. This shows there are no significant pressures on air quality in the region.
Consent-holders doing their bit
Consent compliance and environmental performance ratings were 98% ‘high’ or ‘good’ in the Council’s tailored monitoring programmes for 2019-2020, the Consents & Regulatory Committee was told. The total was higher than in the two previous years, though the 2018-2019 year saw slightly more ‘high’ ratings than the latest year, with ‘good’ lower. Eighty-six tailored reports were prepared during the year, many of them covering multiple consent-holders organised by catchment or industry sector. The Council’s compliance monitoring is regarded as the most comprehensive in New Zealand, with annual consent monitoring reports provided to consent-holders and the public for three decades. Reports for recent years are available on the Council website.
Bylaws going out for consultation
Public submissions are about to be called on an existing Council bylaw and on a proposed new bylaw. The Policy and Planning Committee approved a review of the Council’s Navigation Bylaw for Port Taranaki and its Approaches, and also agreed that a process should start to establish a new River Control and Flood Protection Bylaw. The Navigation Bylaw review will focus solely on the Port and its approaches, which is where risks are greatest. The new River Control and Flood Protection Bylaw, if approved, will give the Council greater ability to protect and prevent damage to its flood-control assets in the region, such as stopbanks. Public consultation on both bylaws will run from 27 July to 21 August, with details to be available on the Council’s website.