Two warnings have been delivered recently that should be cause for local councils to pick up their pace … and move fast from deliberation to action.
Over in Whakatu on Wednesday, an accidental ammonia release forced emergency response as authorities warned residents to stay indoors as a precaution. No serious consequences … this time.
Finally responding to community complaints, the Hastings Council has recently moved to establish a Council-community-industry group to address environmental, health and safety issues Whakatu residents have been voicing for years. That’s fine, if overdue; but this is the kind of process that can easily get bogged down in endless discussion, posturing and “studying.”
The group will meet for the first time on Monday. Hopefully, health risks will shoot immediately to the top of the priority list, and concrete risk mitigation actions quickly identified and implemented.
On another front, significantly less than average rainfall was reported in Hawke’s Bay for the month of November.
Another warning that this region, led by its Regional Council, must get its act together on managing our water supplies and quality more prudently.
At the inaugural conference of a new group called Irrigation New Zealand, experts from Australia, hardened by lessons from their drought conditions, recently warned that NZ will require entirely new regulatory and market-oriented management schemes if its water is to be husbanded, and fairly and efficiently used in the future.
Regarding NZ’s consent-type water use scheme, one expert commented:
“It was not designed for this century; it was not designed for where you are; and not designed for where you should go as environmental managers, as Maori, and as irrigators.”
Noting that Perth is already running on 66% less water, and river flows in the Murray River systems in 2006-07 set new minimum flow records in each of 11 consecutive months, he asks:
“Are your consent plans, are your river systems and are your businesses ready to cope with a regime that is lower than you’ve ever seen in your lives?”
What does a 21st century scheme look like? It includes tough caps on water use. Unbundling of land and water ownership. Water trading rights and protocols. Perhaps nitrates trading. Water harvesting and storage. Water treatment to rigorous standards. Integrated management of groundwater and surface water.
The Water Briefing Paper released last month by the HB Regional Council as part of its pre-consult on its next ten-year plan (LTCCP), is promising in its scope of concern.
But what’s not clear is whether it promises a plan of action or merely years of study. The paper is full of reviews, investigations, data collection, research, modelling, feasibility studies — years of employment for staff and consultants.
But as best I could tell, only two capital investments — $50,000 for metering and telemetry and a yet-undetermined possible amount for water meters — in a plan intended to carry us forward ten years. Nor did I see any plane tickets to Australia, where there’s already plenty of hands-on lessons to guide water policy-making!
Ensuring ample, clean water whenever we need it over the next decade will require a 21st century management scheme to be in place soon, together with the physical infrastructure (effective water treatment and storage facilities) required to enable that scheme.
The Briefing Paper floats no schedule for those actions. A worry when one considers that the HB Regional Council has sat on its hands while staring at new air quality standards issued in 2004. The Council might get an undeserved time extension for meeting the air standards thirty other regions will comply with on schedule; they won’t get an extension on coping with nature’s readjustment of rainfall patterns and water supply.
Whakatu and water … two areas where Councils need to dramatically pick up the pace.