Last week, reflecting on the general posture of the Regional Council, and their specific approach to pollution of the Taharua/Mohaka Rivers, I wrote that the Councillors were soft on farmers. That they collectively gagged over the word “regulate” when it came to egregiously bad farming practices.

HBRC Chairman Alan Dick says that I’ve got it wrong … that the Regional Council is indeed prepared to carry a big stick. Here’s his explanation:

“Thank you for the opportunity to comment on your recent posting Regional Council gags.

“As a result of that article a large number of people have gained the impression that the Regional Council is loathe to and will not REGULATE to deal with serious water quality issues such as are affecting the Taharua stream catchment and consequently the Mohaka River.

“In fact, while it might not have been entirely clear to observers at the Council’s Environmental Management Committee meeting on 9 September, the intention is very clearly to use regulation as a key component of a suite of measures to deal with this issue.

“The problem has been well publicised and science now strongly suggests that three large intensive dairy farms, on a small catchment with light volcanic soils, are overloading the Taharua stream with nutrients, which is then detrimentally affecting the Mohaka River, particularly in its upper reaches.

“Regional Councils to date have been very effective in regulating and thus controlling nutrient or effluent discharges from “point” sources – that is, for example, waste pipe discharge from a factory or in the case of dairy or other intensive farming types, control and disposal of effluent from dairy sheds or feedlot hardstands. What our rules have not controlled to date is what the cow does in the paddock and what consequently ends up in waterways as a result of leaching or overland flow – known as “diffuse” or “non point source discharges”.

“Hence the decision last week to regulate the effects of land use activities and the consequent non point source discharges that are generated.

“Effectively that will mean that farming activities will not be allowed to generate nutrient outputs that exceed the capacity of the receiving environment (the stream) – and accordingly, better farming and land management practices will be enforced. Land management software such as “Overseer” will be the tool to enable measurement and monitoring of nutrient inputs and outputs.

“This is regulation of the effects of land use, which is totally consistent with the principles of the Resource Management Act.

“Another view is that we should regulate the land use rather than effects – for example to ban dairying. This was not supported as it is a blunt instrument, very difficult and expensive to implement. And in any case other forms of intensive farming or even cropping with high fertiliser inputs can be just as or even more problematic.

“Rules and sanctions will be a key part of the new regime, but the package will also include incentives and grants to assist the fencing of waterways and planting of nutrient-absorbing riparian strips, plus sustainable farm management advice from our team of highly skilled and dedicated land management advisors.

“The Taharua decisions should not be under-rated. The Hawke’s Bay Regional Council will be one of only a few Councils in New Zealand who have been willing and able to find a mechanism to deal with non-point discharges of nutrients or pollutants to waterways.

“It is important to note also that requirements of the Resource Management Act have to be followed to achieve a change in planning rules. That is going to be far easier and quicker to achieve if we can take significant stakeholders such as Farmer organisations with us, rather than have confrontations which inevitably lead to appeals, litigation and costly delays.

“Regrettably, change will not be evident overnight. The formal Plan change process under RMA rules could take two years, farm management practices will have to undergo an adaptation process, and even then there is a time lag as accumulated nutrients continue to leach from the soil.

“However, assuming these decisions* are confirmed by the Regional Council next week, the Taharua and Mohaka will commence a journey of restoration to their original iconic and pristine state.”

Alan Dick
Chairman, HB Regional Council

*Click here to see resolution passed by HBRC’s Environmental Management Committee, which will now come before the full Council.

OK. I accept that as Alan Dick’s position.

But I’ve heard other Councillors express far less enthusiasm for the “get tough” spirit of these remarks. And only months ago Council staff was happily convincing MPs Foss and Tremain that the Mohaka was just fine. Only when Fish & Game produced a video documenting the degraded state of the Mohaka, which BayBuzz posted online here (now viewed 1,159 times) with this article, and the DomPost followed with Kathy Webb’s “Death of a Waterway” article, did the HBRC discover adequate supporting science — and courage — to address the matter.

Consequently, when I see Chairman Dick print out this statement, pass it around the table, and get eight additional signatures from his fellow Councillors, I’ll finally accept that it reflects HBRC policy … on paper at least! Then we’ll watch for the promised actions to back up the words.

Tom Belford

P.S. And whether “effects” regulation will prove sufficient, we’ll re-visit at another time.

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