The Environment Court this week is at the last stage of hearing appeals to the Horizons Regional Council One Plan, which proposes a comprehensive scheme for dealing with all of that region’s natural resources, including inter-related land management, water quality and biodiversity issues. The Horizons Council oversees much of the lower North Island, about 8% of New Zealand’s land, including the infamously polluted Manawatu River.
The One Plan is being appealed from all directions — Federated Farmers, Horticulture New Zealand, Fish & Game and the Department of Conservation, among others. 308 out of 441 appeals against the Plan were settled by mediation, so the Court is now focused on the tough nuts, with nutrient management at the top of the list.
At the core of the dispute is whether and how to regulate what farmers do on their land, insofar as those activities impact water quality. As one agribiz consultant is quoted in Farmers Weekly (30 April 2012), the Court’s ruling will have “huge impacts” on how people farm and grow in the region … “What comes out of the Court will set huge precedence for the rest of the country.”
Moreover, this will be perhaps the most significant Environment Court decision to come forth since the new National Policy Statement on Freshwater Quality was issued last year. The NPS ups the ante in terms of requiring more proactive water quality management by regional councils, and requires the regulation of “non-point discharges” — that is, farm run-off.
With its water storage scheme, a looming CHB sewage discharge consent, and Regional Plan changes about to set water quality standards and water allocation rules, the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council is grappling with the same set of issues as the One Plan.
Heaps of people and interest groups nervously awaiting the Environment Court outcome.