Items of interest from this week’s meetings of the Council’s two key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
Freshwater reforms make big splash
Implementing the Government’s Essential Freshwater reforms is one of the biggest and most complex projects the Council has faced and affects nearly every section of staff, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. Being the biggest change in 30 years, the package includes multiple requirements that come into effect at different times over the coming three years, with a high level of complexity. Internal project management procedures are being refined and adapted to ensure the package is implemented as efficiently as possible, with good coordination among teams. Progress will be regularly reported to the Committee. As well as the Essential Freshwater package, the Council will also face major changes as a result of the Government’s ‘3 Waters’ reforms, the new legislation being developed to replace the RMA, a review of the future role of local government, and implementation of the Government’s Zero Carbon pathways.
Farmers wise to get in early with effluent upgrade
Many farmers are getting in early with their conversions to land-based dairy effluent disposal, which is better for stream health than pond-based systems, the Consents & Regulatory Committee was told. The Council requires such a switch when current resource consents come up for renewal, with 215 consent-holders having to make the change by the end of next year. But others are also converting even though their consents still have a number of years to run – a trend encouraged by Council officers.
Pond problems pinpointed during inspections
The consent farm dairy effluent consent compliance rate remains above 90%, the Consents & Regulatory Committee was told. But results from the latest inspection round show overall non-compliance has increased from 5.2% to 8.6%, the Committee was told. Significant non-compliance increased from 1.6% to 2.7%. None warranted prosecution, however. Most of the problems arose with the performance of pond systems. The increase is partly the result of more sampling being carried out than in the previous season, when the programme was disrupted by COVID-19. The dairy inspection round runs from October to April, with Council officers making unannounced inspections of all 1600-plus dairy farms with a consent. The Committee was told it’s the Council’s largest monitoring programme, and has just undergone a periodic review, resulting in tweaks to accommodate new technology and maintain efficiency and cost-effectiveness.
Kororā kōrero – pointers on penguins
The vulnerability of kororā, or little blue penguins, in their Taranaki shoreline nests is highlighted in a leaflet the Council is preparing for those carrying out work that may disturb the species, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The leaflet explains how to find the location of known penguin ‘hotspots’ using the Council’s online GIS mapping tool at www.trc.govt.nz/seabird-areas, the signs that kororā may be nesting nearby and the availability of trained penguin-detection dogs, and the times of year when the birds are at their most vulnerable and work should not be carried out near them. The leaflet is particularly aimed at those maintaining or carrying out minor alterations and extensions to coastal structures. Kororā are classifed as ‘at risk – declining’ and are among species protected by provisions of the Council’s Proposed Coastal Plan for Taranaki, currently going through an Environment Court appeal. The Department of Conservation also has oversight and regulatory powers to protect kororā under the Wildlife Act.
Pampas not being pampered
A ‘one size fits all’ rule requiring all landowners to eradicate pampas has given way to a more efficient site-led approach that tackles the plant in specific locations where it is clearly a problem, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. An introduced species from South America, pampas can threaten indigenous vegetation and prevent the regeneration of native seedlings. To a lesser extent it can also disrupt plantation forestry. But it also provides shelter belts and living edges on farmland, and is often the only species to grow on steep slopes, where it prevents erosion. In 2016 there was an estimated 70km of pampas shelterbelts across the region, and in 2018 the rule requiring its eradication was dropped after a review of the Council’s Pest Management Plan. The Committee was told eradication would have imposed a heavy cost on landowners, often bringing little benefit in a conservation sense. Under its Key Native Ecosystems programme, the Council now works with landowners to eradicate pampas on specific sites with high conservation value. It is also mounting a public education campaign about the plant and its eradication.
Predator-free drive makes more gains
Good progress is being made in all aspects of Towards Predator-Free Taranaki, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The project has received a funding boost of $750,000 from the Jobs for Nature scheme, allowing more staff to be deployed including two part-time community liaison officers promoting and growing the scheme in urban New Plymouth. Meanwhile, completion of the Year 3 rural rollout has significantly increased the predator control area on the western side of the maunga. And the zero-possum trial in the Kaitake area is in mop-up mode, with an emphasis on night hunting using possum detection dogs and thermal tracking devices. The virtual barrier of traps at Pukeiti is working as it should.