At last Wednesday’s Regional Council meeting, water was the major topic of discussion …

Question 1: What should we do if there are lapsed water take consents (i.e., the right to abstract water has ceased due to non-use or minimal use) for waterways or groundwater bodies that are deemed already fully or over-allocated?

Answer: Hold on to the water … don’t reallocate it. A no-brainer. [Here’s the staff paper.]

Question 2: How well are water consent holders complying with requirements to faithfully report their water use?

Answer: It’s getting better. [Here’s the staff paper.]

HBRC staff are more systematically badgering consent holders to get their reports in. And better still, automatic measurements fed in by telemetry are increasingly eliminating the “human factor.” As installation of telemetry proceeds, measurement of water use will be more reliable and complete, facilitating both policy development and strong enforcement of allocation limits, as well as better farm management.

Question 3: How often must bans be imposed on water abstraction due to low flows in waterways?

Answer: In the 2009-10 low flow season, there were 1,142 ban days. [Here’s the staff paper.]

April had the greatest number of ban days (366). May had the greatest number of low flow sites (18 out of 30 sites monitored). Of course, from year to year, this depends on seasonal climate conditions, with bans generally triggered in the November-April window (e.g., drier 2008-09 had 1,926 ban days). But obviously the volume of actual water takes matters as well.

In over-allocated rivers, like the Tukituki, it is estimated that around 40% of water allocated is actually used (which takes us back to the importance of Question 2 … accurate measurement). If all the water allocated was actually used, “all hell would break loose” as Councillor Tim Gilbertson observed. Such far higher volume of actual water use in low flow periods would obviously trigger more bans on all abstraction.

For farmers, ban days are critical as a measure of the security of their water supply. If farmers’ certainty of water supply falls below 80%, that’s a serious threat to their business viability.

Question 4: Purely from a health perspective, what is the quality of water at key recreational sites around the Bay?

Answer: Compared to 2005, six sites in 2010 were improved, one was worse, twenty-three were unchanged. [Here’s the staff paper.]

So what does that mean about water quality today … in 2010? From data presented by staff, it appears that seven are graded very poor or poor, nine as fair, six as good and six as very good. Mediocre, I’d say.

Hopefully all of this water data will be published in the Regional Council’s forthcoming State of Our Environment 2009 Report.

In any event, water stands front and centre as the Regional Council’s greatest resource management challenge going forward. Too bad the present Council is just waking up to it.

Tom Belford

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