Rules to pro­tect wa­ter in­vest­ment

South Waikato News - - Your Paper, Your Place - VAUGHAN PAYNE

While it’s cer­tainly true the law re­quires wa­ter quality im­prove­ments in the Waikato and Waipa rivers, there’s also a ma­jor prac­ti­cal fi­nan­cial rea­son for up­ping our game.

The pro­posed Healthy Rivers Wai Ora plan change will pro­tect the ex­ist­ing pub­lic and pri­vate in­vest­ment in the health of the rivers.

Sixty years ago, bac­te­ria lev­els in the Waikato River pass­ing through Hamil­ton were 100 times more than to­day.

A big part of im­prov­ing that sit­u­a­tion has in­volved Hamil­ton res­i­dents and busi­nesses, through the city coun­cil, in­vest­ing many mil­lions of dol­lars to clean up dis­charges to the river.

There’s a sim­i­lar in­vest­ment story for all our rivers and lakes, from Tu­rangi on the south­ern shores of Lake Taupo, through the Waikato River sys­tem, all the way to Port Waikato.

It’s the same for the Waipa River, from Te Kuiti down­stream.

Ev­ery year, ur­ban ratepay­ers in­vest more than $60 mil­lion to im­prove wastew­a­ter dis­charges to these rivers.

Tax­pay­ers, too, from Bluff to Kaitaia are in­vest­ing heav­ily.

They’ve chipped in more than $35 mil­lion for clean­ing up Lake Taupo and an­other $220 mil­lion over 30 years through the Waikato River Author­ity.

Pri­vate sec­tor busi­nesses such as Kin­leith in Toko­roa and Fon­terra in Te Rapa – are an­other part of the pic­ture, as are the many farm­ers, other ru­ral landown­ers, schools and com­mu­nity groups do­ing great work to im­prove our wa­ter­ways.

For ex­am­ple, in 1999 there were some 2400 con­sented di­rect ef­flu­ent dis­charges from dairy farms to wa­ter­ways, now there are un­der 100.

That’s a 96 per cent re­duc­tion, with a big switch to ap­ply­ing ef­flu­ent to land in­stead.

Many in­di­vid­ual farm­ers have in­vested thou­sands of dol­lars in the likes of treat­ing farm ef­flu­ent, and fenc­ing and plant­ing streams.

Those same farm­ers tell me they’re not afraid of the pro­posed plan change be­cause they’ve al­ready done the work that’s likely to be re­quired.

Not­with­stand­ing all this in­vest­ment in tidy­ing up sewage, in­dus­trial and dairy shed dis­charges – as well as ri­par­ian plant­ing and wet­land restora­tion - some mea­sures of wa­ter quality in the Waikato and Waipa rivers have con­tin­ued to de­cline.

The main fac­tor has been the ma­jor land use in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion within the catch­ments in re­cent decades.

Over the past 10 years we have had an area six times the size of Hamil­ton city con­verted from forestry to pas­ture.

Cow num­bers in the Dairynzde­fined Waikato climbed by al­most 100,000 or around nine per cent in the seven years till 2014-15, while on the cen­tral plateau around lakes Ro­torua and Taupo, which also in­cor­po­rates parts of our re­gion, the rise was nearly 50,000 or 22 per cent.

From as soon as the plan change is no­ti­fied this month, a re­source con­sent will be needed for any fur­ther in­ten­si­fi­ca­tion in the catch­ments.

This is de­signed to help pre­vent a ‘‘gold rush’’ of change to less en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly land uses be­fore the pro­posed plan change is fi­nalised after pub­lic sub­mis­sions.

That’s fair enough in my view to help pro­tect the re­gion’s mul­ti­mil­lion dollar in­vest­ments in wa­ter quality while the fi­nal shape of the pro­posed plan change is worked out.

• Vaughan Payne is chief ex­ec­u­tive of Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil.

SUP­PLIED

Vaughan Payne is chief ex­ec­u­tive of Waikato Re­gional Coun­cil.

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