Freshwater focus

Photo: Wanaka Sun Archives

There’s a lot going on nationally and regionally in relation to freshwater.  In October the government released Essential freshwater: Healthy water, fairly allocated, its blueprint for turning around water quality trends and making long-term improvements in freshwater by focusing on three key objectives:

  • Stopping further degradation.

  • Reversing past damage.

  • Addressing water allocation issues.

At the same time, three advisory groups were set up to provide advice on how to achieve the freshwater objectives: Kahui Wai Māori; the Science and Technical Advisory Group; and the Freshwater Leaders Group.  Dr Marc Schallenberg and Dr Mandy Bell are representing Otago and there will be opportunities for public comment on specific issues in 2019.

The Government is acting on recommendations from the Land and Water Forum to identify 'at-risk' catchments, ensure plans are in place for those catchments and take action where necessary.  The Land and Water Forum defines at-risk catchments as those where:

  1. there is a clear decline in water quality or ecosystem health; or

  2. where the water resource is under pressure from existing or anticipated future land use change, leading to a likely decline in water quality; or

  3. where the waterbody is vulnerable to irreversible detrimental change, and urgent action is needed.

In November, a cabinet paper was released setting out an ambitious programme of regulatory work for the three waters – drinking water, wastewater and stormwater.  The paper noted that the following problems exist across all of the three waters:

  1. funding and financing to upgrade infrastructure, particularly wastewater.

  2. capability challenges faced by councils to access and retain the specialist skills required to operate and maintain infrastructure.

  3. weak regulation across the three waters system exhibiting inadequate stewardship, and compliance, monitoring and enforcement practices.

The most significant result is that the Cabinet Economic Development Committee has instructed the Minister for Local Government to begin a process of three waters reform over the next 18 months, seeking detailed policy decisions in 2019, with a view to introducing legislation in 2020.

Although water quality in our local lakes and rivers remains higher than the national average, the Upper Clutha Water Group believes that our waterways face significant risks due to the combined impacts of population growth, tourism and change of land use.  Upper Clutha Water Group is working with a range of stakeholders, including ORC and QLDC, to develop a community-led Integrated Catchment Management Plan for the Upper Clutha. This plan will help inform the development of water policy decisions for better collective management of the Upper Clutha water bodies and catchments.

 


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