TRC Bulletin - May 2017

Items of interest from this month's meetings of two of the Council's key committees, Consents & Regulatory, and Policy & Planning:

Clear thinking needed on clean water

The Council has urged the Government to go back to first principles and clearly identify the nature of any problem before finalising its latest freshwater management proposals.

In a submission approved by the Policy and Planning Committee, the Council says the Government needs to clarify and refine the definitions used in its discussion document, ‘Clean Water – 90% of rivers and lakes swimmable by 2040’. The Council’s submission says:

  • The problem lacks definition. More evidence is needed on the extent of actual illness caused when people swim in water bodies with elevated levels of E. coli bacteria. The Government estimates that reaching its 2040 swimmability targets will cost $2 billion in public and private funding – with no data on whether a response of this scale would actually work or whether it is in keeping with the size of the actual problem.
  • Recent research has cast doubt on the reliability of E. coli as an indicator of faecal contamination, resulting in a review of the current ‘danger’ threshold of 540 E. coli per 100 ml. The review is continuing but the Government is still using this threshold as the basis for its 2040 swimmability targets.
  • Requiring year-round monitoring and compliance, even at times when it would be foolhardy to swim because of weather and/or dangerous currents and flows, imposes significant costs but with little purpose or community benefit.
  • Proposed broad-brush national requirements for excluding stock from waterways fall short of what is actually required to reduce faecal contamination, and risk undermining successful and proven local initiatives such as Taranaki’s award-winning riparian planting and fencing programme.
  • It should be up to councils working with their local communities to decide which rivers and lakes are most important for swimming, whether and how urgently improvements are required, and how success is measured.

Dairy non-compliance up slightly

The 2016/2017 round of dairy effluent system inspections has been completed, with 1721 farms inspected, the Consents and Regulatory Committee was told. The overall non-compliance rate was 7.4%, up from 5.8% the previous season and reflecting a wetter summer. Most of the breaches were relatively minor, with just 0.9% classed as ‘significant non-compliance’ in terms of their environmental effects. Enforcement action included 120 abatement notices and 12 infringement notices. The Committee was told that compliance issues with oxidation ponds will decline as farmers switch to land disposal of dairy effluent. The Council is requiring most dairy farmers to switch to land disposal after the expiry of existing resource consents for the discharge of treated dairy effluent to waterways. Some farmers are making the move earlier to avert pond compliance issues and in recognition of the fertiliser benefits of the effluent.

A new plan for regional pests

A planned new pest-management blueprint for the region will go out for public consultation later this month after winning approval from the Policy and Planning Committee. The Proposed Regional Pest Management Plan will replace 2007’s Regional Pest Animal Strategy and Regional Pest Plant Strategy. The proposed plan lists 18 species for which eradication or sustained control measures will be mandatory, and is being published alongside a new non-statutory Biosecurity Strategy, which sets out the Council’s wider approach to biosecurity and is also going out for public consultation. The 18 species listed in the Proposed Pest Management Plan are climbing spindleberry, giant reed, madeira or mignonette vine and Senegal tea (eradication species), and brushtail possums, giant buttercup, giant gunnera, gorse, kahili ginger, nodding and plumeless thistle, old man’s beard, common and purple pampas, variegated thistle, wild broom, yellow ginger and yellow ragwort (sustained control species). The selection of the species followed wide-ranging consultation with interested parties, scientific assessments and a detailed cost-benefit analysis. New ‘good neighbour’ rules, requiring buffer zones on public and private land, would apply to the species subject to sustained control.

Sound approach to environmental duties

Taranaki does not experience any of the issues and problems highlighted in a new national report on compliance, monitoring and enforcement of environmental law, the Consents and Regulatory Committee was told.  The report, based on a wide-ranging survey carried out by the Environmental Defence Society, noted that regional councils have made significant improvements in their approach to compliance, monitoring and enforcement, but it is still patchy and, in some places, undermined by political considerations.  The Committee was told that the Taranaki Regional Council’s compliance, monitoring and enforcement regime is well established, sophisticated and effective, and does not experience the political and operational issues identified in other regions.