Bet­ter way to man­age wa­ter

Matamata Chronicle - - Out & About - ALAN LIVINGSTON

From bot­tling for ex­port to the in­creas­ing strain on wa­ter­ways gen­er­ally, the swirl around fresh wa­ter is gath­er­ing pace.

For Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil, these is­sues aren’t new but we are part of the search for new so­lu­tions through our fresh­wa­ter strat­egy.

Ex­am­ples of prob­lems the strat­egy is de­signed to ad­dress in­clude wa­ter take al­lo­ca­tion lim­its are be­ing hit in places. For ex­am­ple, ma­jor rivers – the Waikato and the Pi­ako – are now ef­fec­tively classed as fully al­lo­cated for wa­ter take pur­poses.

Ap­pli­ca­tions for sur­face wa­ter from the Waikato catch­ment now ex­ceed what’s avail­able dur­ing the sum­mer months of Novem­ber to April. The Pi­ako is ac­tu­ally over-al­lo­cated. But there’s less pres­sure in other ar­eas.

Bac­te­ria lev­els ex­ceed safe swim­ming stan­dards at many fresh­wa­ter sites around the re­gion.

The Waikato econ­omy is de­mand­ing more than its fresh­wa­ter re­source can sus­tain. There is a need to bet­ter un­der­stand what lim­its ex­ist, and where, to pre­vent en­vi­ron­men­tal and eco­nomic harm, as well as so­cial and cul­tural im­pacts.

Cur­rently, manag­ing the al­lo­ca­tion and qual­ity of fresh­wa­ter in the Waikato re­lies on reg­u­la­tions en­forced by the re­gional coun­cil. Those reg­u­la­tions are based on old legis- la­tion from a time when wa­ter was more plen­ti­ful and over­al­lo­ca­tion of wa­ter wasn’t an is­sue. Wa­ter take con­sent charges are rel­a­tively low-level, re­lat­ing to coun­cil pro­cess­ing and mon­i­tor­ing ac­tiv­i­ties.

We think a bet­ter mix of in­cen­tives, rules and ed­u­ca­tion could be more ef­fec­tive in im­prov­ing the way wa­ter is used and pro­tected in our re­gion.

The strat­egy’s sug­ges­tions in­clude po­ten­tially us­ing vol­ume­based pric­ing for wa­ter takes.

Suit­able pric­ing tools – what­ever their fi­nal shape – could help us bet­ter man­age de­mand and wa­ter qual­ity by pro­vid­ing an in­cen­tive for more ef­fi­cient and con­ser­va­tive use of re­sources. It could also help ad­dress com­mu­nity con­cerns that the value of wa­ter is not fully ap­pre­ci­ated.

Vol­ume-based pric­ing and a sys­tem where pol­luters bear a greater fi­nan­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity to­wards mit­i­gat­ing their im­pacts could help avoid the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion when the gen­eral pub­lic can ef­fec­tively end up sub­sid­ing those who are ad­versely con­tribut­ing to wa­ter qual­ity and scarcity is­sues.

Pric­ing could be im­ple­mented in a way that pro­motes the har­vest­ing and stor­age of wa­ter at times of the year when it is plen­ti­ful, en­cour­ages higher value land uses and stim­u­lates land use changes of ben­e­fit to the en­vi­ron­ment.

Ever­green buck­thorn started life as an or­na­men­tal plant in New Zealand but now is con­sid­ered a pest plant.

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