Items of interest from this week’s meetings of the Council’s two key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:
Freshwater efforts working but limits beyond reach
The ecological health of waterways remains the prime measure of freshwater quality and new research results highlight the effectiveness of good work by farmers, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. But the research also begs more questions about where the Government’s going with nutrient targets and limits. Researchers have found that nutrient and sediment loads in New Zealand waterways would be considerably worse by now if not for changes made by farmers since 1995. They estimate that 98% more phosphorus, 45% more nitrogen and 30% more sediment would have entered water courses if not for actions such as riparian fencing and better management of irrigation, effluent disposal and fertiliser use. Current and developing mitigation measures have the potential to further decrease nutrient and sediment loads in many catchments to levels that meet new requirements. But some areas, including most of the Taranaki ring plain, will still exceed the Government’s new bottom lines for nutrients, despite marked improvements in the ecological health of waterways. De-stocking or complete change of land use would be necessary to achieve them. The Committee was told that the findings validate the Council’s reservations about some of the Government’s new requirements, and highlight the lack of connection between waterway ecological health and nutrient levels.
Assessing the effectiveness of on-farm mitigation actions(external link) (Our Land and Water website)
Zero-carbon pathways questioned
A major new report advising the Government on ways to reach its 2050 zero-carbon target has won overall support in a TRC submission, but it also argues that some details are significantly flawed. With submissions on the Climate Change Commission’s advice closing on 28 March, the Council’s feedback was discussed by the Policy & Planning Committee. The Council expresses overall support for the 2050 target and accepts that it will require disruptive change. It also supports treating gases such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxides differently because of their different impacts and reduction options. However, it says the Commission’s national focus ignores local and regional variations. Because of Taranaki’s economic reliance on hydrocarbon and farming industries, it would suffer penalties that are out of proportion to the emissions it produces. The Commission also pays little heed for the potential gains from energy efficiency and behaviour change, and there are questionable assumptions about labour mobility and job losses, and the feasibility of the required increases in electricity generation and transmission. It also glosses over dairying’s role in carbon sequestration and retention, and the possibility of storing carbon dioxide in depleted gas fields. The finalised submission will be shared with the region’s district councils and others.
Ideas flowing for freshwater vision
The Council is asking the public how and why they value Taranaki’s rivers, streams and lakes, and what the region should aim to achieve for their future. An online survey was launched this month and will be followed by public workshops in April, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. Officers will also work closely with the Wai Māori consultative group that has been involved in the review of the TRC’s Freshwater Plan. A long-term ‘freshwater vision’ is a new requirement under the Government’s National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management. The vision will be a high-level statement. It must be ambitious yet achievable (that is, difficult but not impossible) and must also set a timeframe (30 years, for example).
Biodiversity work continues to expand
Twelve more sites become part of a successful Council-landowner partnership that aims to reverse the decline in native biodiversity in the region, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. The new sites from throughout the region have been added to the Council’s inventory of Key Native Ecosystems (KNEs), which now numbers 323 sites covering nearly 127,500 hectares. Of these, 269 sites are completely or partially privately owned and cover 17,754 hectares, which is 27% of privately owned indigenously forested land in Taranaki. The KNE programme targets the most vulnerable and at-risk native habitats and species, and the Council has worked with landowners to draw up active biodiversity plans for 185 of them. The plans can cover fencing, predator control and planting, with assistance available to landowners from the Council, the QEII Trust and other agencies.
Farm incentives on right track
A new initiative by Fonterra to reward farmers for meeting sustainability and environmental targets aligns well with the Council’s expectations for and requirements of the sector, the Policy & Planning Committee was told. From next year, Fonterra will pay farmers up to 10c more per kilogram of milk solids if they meet targets including farm plan implementation, responsible disposal of plastics and chemicals, low nitrogen inputs, no effluent discharges to water, and use of farm-grown feed. The Committee was told it was a good example of an industry not waiting for regulators to drive change.
Fonterra Co-operative Difference Payments(external link) (Fonterra website)