River plan will deliver on challenges
That seems to be the underlying swirl in some recent commentary on the Healthy Rivers Wai Ora Proposed Plan Change 1 for addressing the health of the Waikato and Waipa rivers.
However, I believe the plan – developed by a multi-sector Collaborative Stakeholder Group (CSG) - is a robust attempt to meet the legally mandated and complex challenge of making the rivers safe for swimming and food gathering along their entire lengths, including their tributaries.
Waikato Regional Council is extremely grateful to the CSG for taking on this enormous challenge.
CSG representatives were selected by their sectors, such as dairy, sheep and beef and industry. Not all agreed to everything in the plan notified for public submissions.
Fair enough. As CEO of Waikato Regional Council, I fully expect our organisation to make a significant submission on aspects of the CSG’s plan. I also expect robust debate from others over its proposals and urge people to have their say through the submissions process.
But let’s not suggest there are no real issues to address.
The Government’s National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS) and the legally binding Crown-iwi Vision and Strategy for the rivers both outline standards to be met over time.
The latter calls for the rivers to be in good health and safe for swimming and food gathering along their entire lengths, including their tributaries. It’s being proposed by the CSG that this happens over the next 80 years.
There’s absolutely no doubt that significant lengths of both rivers and their tributaries fail to meet the water quality standards required. For example, of the 61 sites where it is measured, 49 fail the E.coli test for swimmability. Failure rates are similar for various measures related to nitrogen, phosphorus and water clarity.
So it’s clear from the science that, if we are to comply with guidelines over time, changes to the way we manage our land will need to be made.
Some people may question whether the guidelines are appropriate targets. That’s their prerogative. But these are the guidelines we need to aim for.
The CSG’s proposed solution is now out there. The submissions process gives us all the opportunity to discuss whether the CSG has got it right and whether refinements are needed.
The regional council naturally understands the angst some feel over the financial consequences of implementing the proposed new land use rules. We undoubtedly face extra costs ourselves.
So I urge all in the wider regional community to work hard together to get the final shape of the plan change as right as we can. That way we’ll protect both our environmental and economic health and, especially, the health of our special rivers.
Above: Vaughan Payne. Left: An aerial view of the Waikato River.