Plan Change 7 and Plan Change 2 - What you need to know

Environment Canterbury has made its decision on Plan Change 7 to the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan (CLWRP) and Plan Change 2 to the Waimakariri River Regional Plan (WRRP).

Read the overview presentation (PDF File, 5.09MB) of the notified proposals and the information below on the Council’s decision to find out more about what this might mean for you.

Council’s decision adopts the independent hearing commissioners' recommendations on PC7 and PC2 in their entirety. The only other option open to Council was to withdraw the plan changes. Read the recommendations of the hearing commissioners.

Council’s decision was publicly notified on 20 November 2021 in various media and on the website. View public notice.

The public notice includes details and the timeframe for making appeals. Appeals can only be made on a point of law and must be made within 15 working days of the date of the public notice.

When do the rules apply?

The rules in the notified version of both plan changes are legally effective.

Council’s decision on PC7 and PC2 also has legal effect from the date of public notification. Council’s decision supersedes the rules in the notified version of the plan changes.

PC7 and PC2 will not become fully operative until any appeals have been resolved.

New activities and those established before notification of the plan changes (20 July 2019) are treated differently.

New activities

During the appeal period, new activities must comply with rules in both the relevant operative plan and in the plan changes.

If an activity cannot meet the requirements of a ‘permitted activity’ rule in both the operative plan and the plan changes, a resource consent will be required.

Existing activities

An existing activity is one that was established before notification of the plan changes on 20 July 2019.

Where an existing activity is permitted under the operative plan but requires a resource consent under the plan changes, the activity may continue without a resource consent until 6 months after the plan change becomes operative. Certain criteria apply, including that the activity was lawfully established and there is no change in its scale, intensity or character.

Frequently asked questions - Council decision

Why was the decision made outside the normal 2 years from notification under the RMA?

Council wanted to understand the Scientific Advisory Panel Overseer Model Peer Review Report and the Government’s response and recommendations (‘the Overseer reports’)  and the implications of these before deciding on whether to adopt the hearing commissioners’ recommendations on PC7 and PC2.

The Minister for the Environment approved an extension (PDF file, 231.84KB) of time for Council to make its decisions on PC7 and PC2. Council was required to make its decisions on PC7 and PC2 on or before 9 December 2021.

Download Ministerial letter giving Extension of Time to give Decisions on PC7 and PC2 (PDF File, 231.84KB).

Did Council’s decision on the plan changes consider the Overseer reports?

No. The Overseer reports were not available at the time of the hearing and they were not considered by the independent hearing panel.

The Overseer reports were therefore not relevant considerations for Council to take into account and were not considered when it made its decision on PC7 and PC2.

Can the Zone Implementation Programme Addendums for OTOP and Waimakariri be changed?

No. Once the ZIPAs have been accepted by Council they are final – this happened in December 2018.

What are the key differences between the notified version of PC7 and Council’s decision version?

There are some changes in the decisions version of PC7 compared with the notified version. Key differences include:

Part A - Omnibus:

  • Increased protection for indigenous biodiversity
  • More flexibility for managing nutrients by commercial vegetable growers
  • Additional consideration to Ngāi Tahu outcomes
  • More protection of freshwater bathing and salmon spawning sites.

Part B - OTOP:

  • Increased protection of sites of cultural significance, including rock art and springs
  • Shorter timeframes for the introduction of new nutrient management to improve freshwater quality in high-risk areas
  • Changes to the flow regimes in the Opihi and the Temuka Freshwater Management Units
  • Removal of allocation of water for cultural purposes in the Temuka Freshwater Management Unit.

Part C - Waimakariri:  

  • Higher limits and targets relating to phosphorus in some rivers
  • Changes to nutrient management in high-risk areas to improve water quality, including an increase in the initial stage of nitrogen loss reductions for the Nitrate Priority Area in 2030
  • Additional future increase in minimum flows in the Ashley River/Rakahuri and the Northern Waimakariri Tributaries Freshwater Management Units
  • Removal of mahinga kai enhancement water allocation in the Northern Waimakariri Tributaries Freshwater Management Unit
  • Remove the freshwater quality requirements for Pegasus artificial lake.
What does PC7 mean in terms of the Government's Essential Freshwater package? 

Plan change 7 takes a significant towards giving effect to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020.

Note that while Environment Canterbury is required to notify a new plan by 2024, that plan is likely to become operative several years afterwards, so PC7 will be legally effective for some time.

Find out more on the Government's Essential Freshwater package and the work we are undertaking.

What changes does PC7 introduce to the Farm Environment Plan programme?

Plan Change 7 introduces additional information and assessment requirements when preparing Farm Environment Plans (FEPs).

These include the following region-wide provisions:

  • Identification and protection of springs
  • Commercial vegetation growing operators using the alternative consent pathway are not required to prepare a nutrient budget.

In the OTOP sub-region these provisions apply in addition to the region-wide ones:

  • Farming land use consent and FEP required for farms larger than 10 hectares in some circumstances
  • Consideration to be given to providing for an abundance of mahinga kai, any in-stream biodiversity values within springs, and stock exclusion from a wider range of waterbodies such as artificial watercourses and springs
  • Farming using irrigation within a Rock Art Management Area to identify how rock art is to be protected
  • Farming using irrigation or involving winter grazing within the Mātaitai and Waipuna Protection Zone to identify how adverse effects on water quality will be minimised.

In the Waimakariri sub-region these provisions apply in addition to the region-wide ones:

  • Farming land use consent and FEP must be prepared for farms larger than 5 hectares in some circumstances
  • Farming land use consent and FEP must be prepared for farms larger than 5 hectares that undertake winter grazing or irrigation and are located close to surface water in the Ashley Estuary/Te Aka Aka and Coastal Protection Zone
  • Consideration must be given to providing for an abundance of mahinga kai, and stock exclusion from a wider range of waterbodies such as artificial watercourses and springs.
If I already have a resource consent and FEP, do these changes affect me?

New applications for resource consent for farming activities will need to take into account the changes introduced by PC7 when preparing FEPs.

The consent conditions of existing resource consent requiring the preparation of an FEP are likely to also require existing FEPs to take into account the changes introduced by PC7 when the periodic review and updating of the FEP is required.

Have the plan changes considered the effects of climate change?
Yes. The plan changes introduce new provisions based on several considerations including the current understanding of how climate change will impact the Canterbury region. Climate change impacts are expected to include changes to the amount of flow in rivers. Science assessments that informed the plan changes accounted for these impacts; for example, when setting new minimum flow regimes in rivers.

About Plan Change 7 and  Plan Change 2

Plan Change 7 (PC7)

Plan Change 7 (PC7) introduces changes to the Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan (LWRP). The LWRP sets out the planning framework for the management of land and water resources in Canterbury.

It is one of the key methods for implementing the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, a community-led collaborative approach to improving freshwater outcomes throughout the region using a variety of initiatives.

PC7 is split into three parts (Parts A, B and C).

About Parts A, B and C

Part A is an ‘Omnibus’ change generally covering amendments to region-wide provisions (policies, rules, maps and schedules).

Part A aims to:

  • Improve freshwater outcomes for Canterbury.
  • Protect habitats of indigenous freshwater species.
  • Enable consideration of Ngāi Tahu values in relation to a broader range of activities.
  • Provide for the use of managed aquifer recharge (a technique to improve the volume and quality of groundwater) across the region.
  • Establish a new nutrient framework for commercial vegetable growing operations.
  • Implement recommendations from the Hinds Drains Working Party.

Parts B and C of PC7 relate to the Orari Temuka Opihi Pareora (OTOP) and Waimakariri sub-regional zones respectively. These parts were developed in collaboration with the Waimakariri and OTOP Zone Committees and implement recommendations in their Zone Implementation Programme Addendums (ZIPAs).

Parts B and C introduce:

  • New water quality limits for groundwater and surface water.
  • Additional requirements for farms to further reduce nitrogen losses over time.
  • Increased minimum flows for rivers and streams.
  • A cap on the volume of water available for allocation.
  • Requirements to exclude stock from a broader range of waterbodies.

Frequently asked questions - Plan Change 7

Omnibus (Part A)
Why is this needed?

The Land & Water Regional Plan (LWRP) has been operative for 7 years and changes within this period now need to be considered across the region.

Changes have been made to ensure the LWRP responds to new directives from central government, emerging environmental issues, and changes that are strategic priorities for Environment Canterbury.

Changes to policies, rules and schedules cover these key topic areas:

  • National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management
  • National Environmental Standards for Plantation Forestry
  • Ngāi Tahu outcomes
  • Habitats of indigenous freshwater species (Critical Habitats)
  • Fish passage
  • Freshwater bathing
  • Commercial vegetable growing operations
  • Hinds Drains Working Party recommendations
  • Managed aquifer recharge.
What are the main changes?
Ngāi Tahu values

Part A introduces new cultural outcome for lakes and rivers in Canterbury, with the objective that freshwater mahinga kai is abundant and safe to gather.

This outcome is delivered partly through new policies and rules placing restrictions on activities that could reduce the quantity or quality of freshwater.

Further, Part A amends 22 rules enabling decision makers to consider potential effects of activities on Ngāi Tahu values and customary activities. There are also changes to templates for Farm Environment Plans (Schedule 7) and Farm Management Plans (Schedule 7A).

These changes require farmers to identify waipuna (springs) and describe the actions they will take to minimise effects on water quality.

Salmon spawning sites

The LWRP includes Schedule 17, which lists significant salmon spawning sites in Canterbury.

Part A of PC7 adds 31 salmon spawning sites into Schedule 17, 22 of which are new sites located throughout Canterbury.

An additional nine sites that are currently listed in the Waimakariri River Regional Plan are transferred to the LWRP.

The inclusion of these additional sites means more restrictions on activities that could damage spawning sites. Restrictions include prohibiting access by farmed cattle, deer and pigs into salmon spawning sites.

Habitats of indigenous freshwater species (Critical Habitats)

Habitats of 11 indigenous freshwater species (including native fish, mussels and crayfish) have been identified and are added to the LWRP planning maps. The PC7 decision version refers to these as ‘Critical Habitats’.

Those who undertake activities with the potential to cause direct damage to habitats (such as vegetation clearance and earthworks) or indirect damage (abstraction of water, for example) must obtain resource consent.

New policies require damage to indigenous habitats to be avoided, except where measures have been taken to ensure adverse effects are avoided, minimised, remedied or offset, or are compensated. Restrictions are introduced on the types of activities that can happen as a permitted activity within a Critical Habitat.

Fish passage

PC7 retains existing policies in the LWRP that provide for the safe passage of indigenous fish through in-stream structures and barriers. New in-stream structures must be appropriately designed and constructed to enable safe fish passage. There is also encouragement to modify or remove existing barriers to passage.

Council’s decision on PC7 found that these existing requirements provide adequate protection for fish passage and no additional requirements are introduced by the plan change.

Will protection of Critical Habitats of indigenous freshwater species result in more resource consents being required?

Resource consents are required for certain activities occurring within, or adjacent to, Critical Habitats. The location of Critical Habitats can be found on the planning maps to the LWRP.

However, activities that significantly compromise the values of a Critical Habitat, such as farmed cattle, deer or pigs are prohibited.

Freshwater bathing sites

PC7 adds 61 additional freshwater bathing sites into Schedule 6 of the LWRP. Farmed cattle, deer and pigs need to be excluded from waterbodies upstream of any freshwater bathing sites listed in Schedule 6.

How were the freshwater bathing sites identified?

Freshwater bathing sites were identified using a combination of information sources. Sites included in Schedule 6 include those identified in the ‘River Values Assessment System’ report as having high recreational values, sites monitored as part of Environment Canterbury’s recreational water quality monitoring programme, and those identified by zone committees as popular freshwater bathing sites.

Why do farmed cattle, deer and pigs need to be excluded from freshwater bathing sites? What are the associated costs of doing this?

Livestock contribute to degrading water quality through increased sedimentation (from pugging and damage to the bed and banks) and can increase the risk of pathogens entering waterways, making them unsuitable for swimming.

The cost of excluding stock from waterways depends on topography and the method of stock exclusion - full fence, hot-wire or an alternative.

Commercial vegetable growing
What was the issue for commercial vegetable growing?

Unlike traditional farming enterprises such as dairy, sheep and beef operations, commercial vegetable growers frequently need to relocate their crops to new locations to prevent crop disease. Growers typically achieve this by rotating crops through a combination of permanently owned land and short-term lease.

The LWRP include rules to manage the impacts of farming activities on the environment. These rules include property-based nitrogen limits which restrict how much nitrogen may be leached from a property. The current rules allocate nitrogen based on land use from 2009 to 2013. This rule framework poses two problems for commercial vegetable growers:

  • Nitrogen loss rates from 2009 – 2013 may not be available if the land is no longer part of the commercial growing operation (for example, if the land was a short-term lease)
  • New land available for lease often lacks a high enough nitrogen ‘baseline’ to accommodate ongoing operations.
How does Part A of PC7 address these issues?

Plan Change 7 introduces an alternative consenting pathway for commercial vegetation growing operations to manage nutrient losses.

All commercial vegetable growing operators requiring resource consent must operate at Good Management Practice, prepare and implement a Farm Environment Plan, and have that plan regularly audited.

The alternative consenting pathway requires commercial vegetable growing on land greater than 0.5ha to restrict the area of land used for the growing operation to one that is no larger than that used during the 2009 – 2013 period (referred to as the ‘baseline growing area’). Growers must also demonstrate how they will achieve any nitrogen loss reductions required by a sub-region section of the plan.

Expansion of existing commercial vegetable growing operations, or establishment of a new commercial vegetable growing operation, may be undertaken where the grower can comply with nitrogen loss limits applying to land at the new location.

If land that is used, or is intended to be used, for commercial vegetable growing is located in a different sub-region or Nutrient Allocation Zone, clear accounting to ensure nutrient losses meet catchment loads or limits is required.

Managed Aquifer Recharge
What is it? Where is it happening?

Managed Aquifer Recharge (MAR) systems allow high-quality clean water to infiltrate the ground to recharge groundwater and hydraulically connected surface waterbodies.

MAR systems are typically used to recharge aquifers subject to declining yields, address saltwater intrusion, or sustain/improve functioning of ecosystems and quality of groundwater.

Has MAR been tested? Is it working?

A MAR system has been trialled in Canterbury in Hinds/Hekeao using water sourced from the Rangitata River. These results show improvements in the quality of local groundwater. Further trial sites (16) have been consented in the Mayfield-Hinds and Valetta catchments and a further two sites in the Waimakariri District:

Find out more about the MAR project.

Why do MAR systems require a resource consent?

MAR systems require large volumes of water to be abstracted from surface water and discharged into groundwater, which leads to the mixing of water from two sources.

Oversight of these systems by way of resource consent is required to ensure potential adverse effects (cultural and ecological) are appropriately considered and managed or mitigated.

PC 7 does not enable surface water to be taken for MAR systems in over-allocated catchments (it is a prohibited activity) unless the surface water is derived from an existing water permit in that catchment.

Hinds Drains
Why are the Hinds Drains a specific focus of Part A of the plan change?

Part A responds to recommendations made by the Hinds Drains Working Party to the Ashburton Zone Committee. These recommendations were not available before the notification of Plan Change 2 to the LWRP (Hinds / Hekeao Plains Area).

The Hinds Drains Working Party recommendations include setting minimum flows and changing allocation limits for three drains (Windermere, Home Paddock and Deals Drain) in the catchment and extends the timeframes for other drains before limit setting is undertaken.

The Working Party recommendations also include provisions relating to stock exclusion and more opportunities to switch from surface water to deep groundwater takes.

What’s the issue? Shouldn’t abstractors be switching from groundwater to surface water rather than vice-versa?

PC7 provides a more enabling framework for consent holders to substitute their existing surface water or stream-depleting groundwater consents for deeper groundwater takes.

This approach enables a reduction in pressure on over-allocated lowland streams.

Why has an extension for flow allocation limits been provided?

The Hinds Drains Working Party and the Ashburton Water Zone Committee recommended retaining the current minimum flow sites on the basis that managed aquifer recharge and targeted stream augmentation will have an influence on waterways.

Those impacts need to be clearly established before minimum flow limits are set.

Orari Temuka Opihi Pareora (Part B)
How does Part B of PC7 ensure a safe supply of drinking water?

PC7 introduces new water quality limits for drinking water supplies that are consistent with the NZ Drinking Water Standards. In addition, Part B includes methods to maintain current good water quality and to improve degraded water quality over time.

How does the plan change improve water quality for recreational values?

The freshwater outcomes for the OTOP sub-region are set to maintain existing good water quality or improve water quality where it is currently degraded. Improved water quality mean that some rivers will meet national standards for swimmable contact recreation and will lead to improved habitat in order to encourage and enable mahinga kai gathering.

What does Part B of PC7 do to protect cultural values and provide for mahinga kai?

PC7 introduces new polices to provide protection to wāhi tapu, wāhi taonga, nohoanga, waipuna and tuhituhi o neherā.

In addition, a ‘Mātaitai and Waipuna Protection Zone’ and a ‘Rock Art Management Area’ are identified, and new restrictions are introduced on activities within these zones/areas.   

Farmers in these zones/areas will need to obtain a land use consent for their farming activity, prepare and implement a Farm Environment Plan, and have that plan regularly audited.

How does Part B of PC7 improve outcomes for ecosystems?

New environmental flow and allocation regimes are introduced for parts of the OTOP sub-region. Higher minimum flows are introduced over time, which will ensure that more water is retained in the river to provide for ecosystem values.

PC7 also introduces several provisions to maintain or improve water quality outcomes that support ecosystem values.

These include new water quality outcomes, limits and targets, and new nutrient management provisions. In addition, new provisions are introduced to protect wetlands, hāpua, high naturalness waterbodies and in-stream biodiversity.

What effect will higher minimum flows have on abstractors?

Increased minimum flows will reduce the reliability of water for abstractors. However, the new minimum flows introduced by PC7 are staged, allowing time for irrigators and industry to adapt to the changes.

How close are the provisions to the Zone Committee’s Zone Implementation Programme Addendum (ZIPA)?

The provisions in Part B of PC7 substantially implement the recommendations in the OTOP Zone Committee’s ZIPA. Key differences between recommendations in the ZIPA and Part B of the plan change include:

  • The introduction of the ‘Mātaitai and Waipuna Protection Zone’ and ‘Rock Art Management Areas’. These areas had not been mapped at the time the ZIPA was prepared and have subsequently been introduced, together with additional restrictions on activities in these zones / areas.
  • A revised management regime for management of surface water flows downstream of the Opuha Dam has been developed since the ZIPA was finalised. The framework aligns with the principles included in the ZIPA.
Ngāi Tahu culture
Why have rules been included to protect rock art? Isn’t there another way?

The OTOP sub-regional area has one of the highest densities of rock art sites in New Zealand. These sites are taonga (treasured/sacred) to Te Rūnanga o Arowhenua and Te Rūnanga o Waihao who actively contribute to their conservation and management.

Rock art is typically found on limestone outcrops and some activities (such as irrigation, discharges and land uses) can cause damage to rock art if not appropriately managed. Part B of PC7 requires farming activities with irrigation in the Rock Art Management Areas to obtain a resource consent. The decision on PC7 has increased protection by directing that land use activities avoid adverse effects on rock art.

PC7 also requires resource consent to be obtained in relation to other activities within a Rock Art Management Area. This includes plantation forestry and construction of a dam for storing water within the Orari Freshwater Management Unit.

Why is a Mātaitai Protection Zone introduced? Why do more restrictive rules apply to farming activities in these areas?

A Mātaitai Protection Zone is introduced, together with new restrictions on farming activities, to protect the quality of water around the mātaitai (customary fishing area). New rules require resource consent and audited Farm Environment Plan for any farm in the zone that directly adjoins a surface water body and which carries out irrigation or winter grazing of cattle.

The Mātaitai Protection Zone also contains a predominance of waipuna (springs) which are taonga (treasured/sacred) to Ngāi Tahu. Waipuna are vulnerable to pollution, damage or destruction from a variety of activities. Protecting waipuna in the OTOP sub-region by including new restrictions on farming activities is important for protecting biodiversity and mahinga kai values.

Nutrient management
What’s the issue for OTOP?

Technical investigations have shown freshwater quality across the sub-region meets water quality limits in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPS-FM) and the Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand. However, there are localised areas where elevated concentrations of nitrate-nitrogen have been detected in groundwater (referred to as ‘High Nitrogen Concentration Areas’ - HCNA).

Within the HCNAs, farming activities are required to further reduce their nitrogen losses over time. For the Rangitata Orton and Levels Plains HNCA, two stages of reductions each of 10% (for dairy) and 5% (other farming activities) are required by 2028 and 2035. Within the Fairlie Basin HNCA, nitrogen loss reduction of 10% (for dairy) and 5% reduction (other farming activities) is required by 2028.

Will more resource consents be required for farming activities in the OTOP Zone?

Yes. More farms are likely to require resource consent under PC7. Irrigated farms within a Rock Art Management Area are required to obtain a resource consent, as are farms in the Mātaitai and Waipuna Protection Zone that undertake irrigation or winter grazing.

Where can I see the High Risk Runoff Phosphorus Zone?

The High Risk Runoff Phosphorus Zone (HRRPZ) is a Land & Water Regional Plan (LWRP) map layer. PC7 does not change the extent of the HRRPZ, so it is not in shown in the PC7 planning maps.

How to view High Risk Runoff Phosphorus Zone Maps

Canterbury maps

You can view the maps on Canterbury Maps (click the ‘Add Data’ icon at the top, search “High Risk Runoff Phosphorus Zone” and then click to add the layer).

Instructions how to add layer

Download PDF

You can view the HRRPZ on the operative LWRP Planning Maps. Download the PDF map sheets.

Rivers and streams
What impact does PC7 Part B have on minimum river flows?

The Orari and Pareora Freshwater Management Units (FMUs) have been subject to plan changes that introduced revised surface water and allocation regimes. No significant changes to the allocation framework are being implemented.

Within the Temuka and Opihi FMU, new environmental flow and allocation regimes have been introduced, with stepped increases in minimum flows over time.

Will the plan change reduce problems with algae in our local rivers?

It is anticipated that the introduction of higher minimum flows for rivers and additional restrictions on farming activities may help to reduce algal blooms in rivers.

What does Part B of PC7 mean for the role of the Opihi Environmental Flow Release Advisory Group (OEFRAG)?

OEFRAG will still provide advice to Environment Canterbury on water shortage directions sought under section 329 of the Resource Management Act. Water shortage directions may be issued when there is a serious temporary shortage of water.

Are rules better than discretion in times of water shortage?

Yes. To date water shortage directions have been sought regularly and on a pre-emptive basis to prevent potential water shortages during the irrigation season.

The flow and allocation regime and minimum lake levels in the Opihi River Regional Plan (ORRP) are not appropriate if the community’s aspirations for the Opihi River are to be met. The flow and allocation framework introduced by Part B of PC7 is a more effective method for managing releases of water from the Opuha Dam, while also ensuring community outcomes are achieved.

What changes have been made to the Opihi / Temuka catchments?

In the Opihi Freshwater Management Unit (FMU), an alternative regime is introduced to manage releases of water from the Opuha Dam. Allocation of freshwater has been capped at current rates and partial restrictions are introduced to prevent minimum flows for the river from being breached.

The Temuka FMU is over-allocated and experiences high abstractive pressure. PC7 introduces flow and allocation regimes and increases to minimum flows for the Temuka River and its tributaries. PC7 phases out over-allocation through reductions in allocation limits in 2025, 2027 and 2030.

Does the plan change introduce a ‘Mahinga Kai Enhancement’ allocation (cultural allocation)?

The Temuka River is culturally significant to Ngāi Tahu. In recognition of this, an allocation of water (100 litres per second) was notified for activities that will enhance mahinga kai outcomes. This proposal was not recommended by the independent hearing commissioners because the Temuka River is over-allocated and the proposal was not aligned with the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020.

Waimakariri (Part C)
How close is the plan change to the recommendations in the Zone Implementation Programme Addendum (ZIPA)?

Part C of PC7 generally implements the recommendations in the Waimakariri Water Zone Committee’s ZIPA. Key differences include:

  • Some allocation limits are different from those recommended in the ZIPA.  The reason for this is that additional technical work was carried out after the ZIPA was finalised. This work has informed the development of allocation limits.
  • A new zone, the ‘Ashley Estuary (Te Aka Aka) and Coastal Protection Zone’, has been introduced and additional restrictions on farming activities and discharges are being implemented within this zone. These controls have been included to help with achieving water quality outcomes for the estuary.
What’s the story with nitrate, particularly in relation to Christchurch drinking water and health impacts?
How does PC7 address nitrate issues in groundwater?

Part C of PC7 introduces new nitrogen limits for surface water and groundwater in the Waimakariri sub-region. New rules limit the amount of nitrate-nitrogen that enters groundwater.

Nutrient management

Part C of PC7 implements a framework to manage the diffuse loss of nutrients from farming activities. This is based on the region-wide ‘Red Zone’ framework but has been modified to ensure outcomes for the Waimakariri sub-region are achieved.

Key differences include:

  • A reduction in area for winter grazing allowed on a property as a permitted activity  

  • Requirements for audited Farm Environment Plans for a larger number of farms

  • Establishment of a Nitrate Priority Area (and Sub-Areas A, B, C, D and E) and a requirement for farms in these areas to reduce nitrogen losses in stages.

What are the impacts for owners of lifestyle blocks?

Farming on small properties (less than 5ha in area) are permitted activities under PC7.

Farms on properties over 5ha may still be permitted provided they limit the areas used for irrigation and winter grazing of cattle in line with conditions in the rules.

Farmers who do not meet these requirements will need to obtain a land use consent, comply with property-based nitrogen limits, and implement an audited Farm Environment Plan.

What nitrogen limits must farmers achieve?

Nitrogen limits only apply to farms that require a land use consent. Farms with a larger area of irrigation or winter grazing than is allowed under the permitted activity rules need to comply with the ‘Baseline GMP Loss Rate’. This is a nitrogen limit that reflects activities between 2009 and 2013, but which has been modified to consider implementation of Good Management Practice.

Further reductions in nitrogen loss (beyond the Baseline GMP Loss Rate) are required within Nitrate Priority Areas. The size of the reduction required depends on the type of farming. Dairy operations are required to reduce nitrogen losses by 20% by 2030 and a further 10% by 2040, while all other types of farming are required to reduce by 5% (2030) and a further 5% (2040).   

Why are the nitrogen loss reductions being done incrementally?

A staged approach to the reductions account for the feasibility of achieving the required reductions and the economic impacts these reductions would have.

Reducing nitrogen losses below the Baseline GMP Loss Rate will be challenging for some landowners.

The independent hearing commissioners considered these issues and said the staged reductions in PC7 are achievable by the farming community.

Will the nitrogen loss reductions be sufficient to achieve community outcomes / expectations?

The notified version of PC7 proposed staged reductions in nitrogen loss for farming activities within the Nitrate Priority Area sub-areas at 10-yearly intervals between 2030 and 2080.

The decisions version increases the initial staged reduction in 2030 for dairy farming from 15% to 20%.

The hearing panel also recommended that the staged reductions should be limited to the 2030 and 2040 intervals only, but that a policy should be added to signal that the further reductions in nitrogen loss from farming activities beyond 2040 would be required to achieve community outcomes and expectations.

The nature and scale of these further reductions are to be informed by ongoing monitoring, investigations and modelling as appropriate.

How will irrigation companies be impacted by the nutrient management framework?

All farms, including those which have their nitrogen losses managed by an irrigation scheme, are required to comply with the nutrient management framework in Part C of PC7, including requirements to reduce nitrogen losses in the Nitrate Priority Area.

How will PC7 ensure the Waimakariri zone has a safe supply of drinking water?

The water quality limits introduced by PC7 for drinking water supplies are consistent with the NZ Drinking Water Standards.

In addition, rules in the region-wide section of the LWRP restrict the type of activities that may happen within the protection zone of a Community Drinking Water Supply or a private bore.

The nutrient management framework is expected to contribute to reductions in nitrate concentrations in drinking water over time.

What is the Nitrate Priority Area (NPA)?

The Nitrate Priority Area (NPA) is a defined area within the Waimakariri sub-region where reductions in nitrogen loss from farming activities are required beyond the Baseline GMP loss rate.

Why is the NPA needed?

The Nitrate Priority Area (NPA) is a defined area within the Waimakariri sub-region where reductions in nitrogen loss from farming activities are required beyond the Baseline GMP loss rate.

How was the NPA boundary drawn?

The NPA boundary was drawn to include the following areas:

  • Groundwater recharge zones for large community supply wells (more than 5000 people) and for community and private water supply wells where nitrate concentrations are projected to exceed half the maximum acceptable value for nitrate in drinking water
  • Groundwater recharge zone for the deep Christchurch aquifers
  • Surface water catchments that generally drain to ground (for example, the Eyre River)
  • Silverstream catchment where the surface water nitrate concentration is above the national bottom line.

The boundary was adjusted to align with:

  • Local paddock or property boundaries
  • Proposed Waimakariri sub-region boundary

The boundary excludes:

  • Areas of poorly drained soils (unless these are included in the approach outlined above); and
  • Ashley River / Rakahuri catchment where runoff contaminants (sediment, phosphorus, or microbiological contaminants) are having the greatest impact on surface water quality and where nitrate toxicity effects are limited.
What are the Nitrate Priority Sub-areas?

The Nitrate Priority Area is divided into five sub-areas (A – E). Each sub-area requires staged reductions in nitrogen losses:

  • Each stage of reduction covers a 10-year period
  • The starting point for reductions in nitrate loss is the property’s Baseline GMP loss rate
  • All sub-areas require two stages of nitrate loss reduction beyond Baseline GMP.
Do the proposed nitrate loss reductions in Table 8-9 (in Plan Change 7 to the Land and Water Regional Plan - section 8) help to maintain nitrate concentrations in the Christchurch aquifer? 

PC7 does not set nitrate limits for the Christchurch aquifer. A concentration of 3.8 mg/L of nitrate nitrogen was defined as an indicative target for the deep Christchurch aquifer to determine the actions required to maintain the quality of groundwater in the Christchurch aquifer system.  View the table in the question above 'How were the Nitrate Priority Sub-areas drawn?'.

To meet this indicative target, some land in the modelled Christchurch aquifer recharge area within the Waimakariri zone (referred to as the “interzone area” - NPA) is required to reduce nitrate loss rates beyond Baseline GMP under the proposed plan change.

A concentration of 3.8 mg/L is higher than the current average measured concentration of 0.6 mg/L. The decision to use 3.8 mg/L was based on consideration by the Christchurch West Melton and Waimakariri Zone Committees of the environmental benefits and economic impacts of a range of possible indicative nitrate concentration targets.

Has a nitrate limit been implemented for the Waimakariri River?

No. The Waimakariri Water Zone Committee recommended that measures be put in place to maintain current nitrate concentration in the river in terms of the nitrate losses from the Waimakariri zone. The measures include applying the LWRP ‘red zone’ rules (together with a lower consent threshold) to all land within the Waimakariri zone, to prevent increases in nitrate loss rates.

Water allocation and minimum flows
How does Part C of PC7 ensure a reliable source of water in the Waimakariri zone?

PC7 introduces new flow and allocation regimes for a range of surface water bodies in the zone. In general the revised regimes impose higher minimum flows for surface waterbodies, so reliability of supply for water abstractors will reduce.

However, Part C of PC7 also sets aside an allocation of water for abstractors that surrender their stream-depleting groundwater or surface water takes in exchange for a deep groundwater take. The availability of this allocation is expected to limit any potential adverse impacts on reliability.

Does the plan change introduce a ‘Mahinga Kai’ allocation of water?

The notified version of PC7 proposed that an allocation of water should be reserved from the Ashley River / Rakahuri, Cam River / Ruataniwha and Silverstream  in recognition of their cultural significance.

This allocation was proposed to be available for activities that would enhance mahinga kai outcomes. However, because these catchments are currently over-allocated, this new allocation of water was not considered by the hearing panel to be aligned with the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020, so the decisions version does not include this allocation.

How will Part C of PC7 improve waterways?

Freshwater outcomes for the Waimakariri sub-region are set to maintain current water quality in areas where it is good, and to improve water quality where it is degraded. Improved water quality would mean some rivers in the sub-region would meet national standards for contact recreation, and improvements to habitat would enable further opportunities for customary use and gathering of mahinga kai.

What is Targeted Stream Augmentation and how does it improve outcomes for rivers?

Targeted stream augmentation (TSI) is a system for controlled release of water to improve river and stream flows. Part C of PC7 introduces a regulatory framework that is more enabling for Waimakariri than the region-wide provisions for TSI.

Augmentation of surface water bodies can provide significant environmental benefits by increasing river flows and reducing concentrations of contaminants. 

A key issue with enabling TSI is finding an appropriate source of water to discharge into the subject waterbody, particularly when several waterbodies within the Waimakariri sub-region are over-allocated.

Ashley Estuary (Te Aka Aka) and Coastal Protection Zone
Why is the Ashley Estuary (Te Aka Aka) and Coastal Protection Zone important and why do additional restrictions apply to farming activities in this zone?  

The Ashley Estuary (Te Aka Aka) is a sensitive environment. There is a high potential for the estuary to become eutrophic unless additional land use and discharge controls are imposed. Further, significant cultural values are associated with the Ashley Estuary (Te Aka Aka) and Coastal Protection Zone, and additional management responses are necessary to achieve mahinga kai outcomes.

PC7 requires those farming an area larger than 5ha which has winter grazing or is irrigated and directly adjoins a surface waterbody to obtain a land use consent to farm. The farm must be subject to a Farm Environment Plan with regular auditing, the purpose of which is to assess the effectiveness of any measures implemented on farm to reduce contaminant contributions to surface waterbodies.

PC7 also requires discharges of contaminants to surface water to be avoided where practicable. If avoidance is not practicable, the best practicable option to minimise loss of contaminants must be implemented.

Map of Coastal Protection Zone

The Ashley Estuary (Te Aka Aka) and Coastal Protection Zone is defined in the LWRP planning maps and shown below. You can access an electronic version of proposed changes to the Planning Maps here.

Ashley Estuary (Te Aka Aka) and Coastal protection Zone

Will additional resource consents be required in the Ashley Estuary (Te Aka Aka) and Coastal Protection Zone?

It is estimated that the new farming rules established by Part C of PC7 will result in an additional 50 land use consents being required.

Stock exclusion
What new stock exclusion rules have been introduced by the Waimakariri part of PC7?  How do these compare to rules within other zones?

The Waimakariri part of PC7 extends the region-wide provisions for stock exclusion to include permanently or intermittently flowing streams (waipuna) or open drains and artificial water courses with surface water that discharges into a lake, river or wetland.

Part C prohibits access by farmed cattle, deer and pigs into springs (waipuna), open drains and artificial watercourses (including but not restricted to irrigation canals and water races) within the Ashley-Waimakariri Plains Area.  This area is defined as land below 350m above sea level, which is the flatter and more intensively farmed part of the Waimakariri sub-region.

Other sub-region sections of the LWRP (including Selwyn Waihora, Ashburton and South Coastal Canterbury Streams) include similar restrictions to ensure improvements in water quality are achieved.

Consent Reviews
Does the Waimakariri part of PC7 require consents to be reviewed?

PC7 introduces a new policy identifying that achieving freshwater outcomes will be assisted by reviewing surface water or stream-depleting groundwater takes with ‘direct’ or ‘high’ stream depletion effects. The timeframes for undertaking these reviews are by 31 December 2024 (Ashley River/Rakahuri Freshwater Management Unit) and by 31 December 2026 (Northern Waimakariri Tributaries Freshwater Management Unit).

Why would consent reviews be undertaken?

The Resource Management Act allows us to initiate a review of resource consents when a regional plan has been made operative, or where there are adverse environmental effects.

Part C of PC7 introduces new requirements for the take and use of surface water and groundwater, including new minimum flows and partial restrictions. However, these minimum flows do not automatically apply to existing resource consents. New limits introduced by a plan change can only be applied when a resource consent expires, when a new consent is sought, or through a consent review.

Waiting for consents to expire would mean it could take many years before all consents are aligned with new minimum flow requirements. This would slow achievement of ecological benefits and create inequity between abstractors, with some abstractors subject to higher minimum flows before others are.

Why does the Waimakariri part of PC7 introduce common expiry dates for resource consents?

Common expiry dates ensure all consents in a catchment expire on the same day. This approach enables co-ordinated and integrated planning.  

A common expiry date of 2037 is introduced for all resource consents for the use of land / or discharge of nutrients from a farming activity, or the take and use of water. Consents after 2037 have a 10-year consent duration. These dates align consents with plan review cycles, taking into account realistic timeframes for plans to be made operative following notification.

Once PC7 has become operative, will Long-Term Plan funding be available to cover the cost of appeals against consent reviews?
Our Long-Term Plan makes no mention of funding allocation specifically for the purposes of funding resource consent inquiries. The Long-Term Plan is unlikely to be able to cater for something of this nature, particularly due to the lack of certainly surrounding reviews such as number or duration.

Plan Change 2 to the WRRP

Plan Change 2 (PC2) makes changes to the Waimakariri River Regional Plan (WRRP). The WRRP promotes sustainable management of surface water and hydraulically connected groundwater within the Waimakariri catchment.

Plan Change 2 is the first step in a move to bring all rules relating to the Waimakariri sub-region into a single planning document – the Land & Water Regional Plan (LWRP). The WRRP will continue to apply to activities within the main stem of the Waimakariri River, its upper catchment, and tributaries south of the mainstem.

Activities in the rest of the Waimakariri sub-region are now instead managed by the LWRP (including provisions in section 8 which apply specifically to the Waimakariri sub-region).

Watch: Working with the community to protect our region’s freshwater