From our councillor: Addressing the state of our waterways

Environment Canterbury has a significant head-start in working with the Government’s new freshwater reforms, as councillor Claire McKay writes.

Councillor Claire McKay

Councillor Claire McKay

In the past, if you’d asked Cantabrians what should be done to improve the region’s water quality, many would have said that he responsibility sits with the rural community.

I am not sure as many people would say the same today. There is increasing awareness around the role that rural and urban alike can – and must – play in addressing the state of Canterbury’s waterways.

A future column from Environment Canterbury will outline the sorts of things the urban community should be doing to protect our urban waterways.

Staying one step ahead

In this column, I am keen to share some of the actions that have been taken in our region, and why I am confident that we are already one step ahead of the new freshwater reforms from Government.

Auditable farm environmental plans, enforceable nutrient limits and stock exclusion from waterways have been features of Canterbury’s water management landscape for some time now.

Our communities want cleaner waterways and so do the farmers. Over the past decade, all of those involved in the collaborative and successful Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) have made significant strides towards achieving this.

The freshwater reform package recently announced by the Government aligns strongly with those measures we have already established and others that are going to be implemented.

Compared with some councils elsewhere around the country, Environment Canterbury is about a decade ahead in this work, largely due to the CWMS and the efforts of councillors, the community and members of Canterbury’s zone committees.

But while we have the CWMS roadmap, and a useful headstart on these new expectations in terms of having some of the country’s toughest regulations, the devil will be in the detail that is still to be drafted by central government.

Good farming practice key to success

Canterbury farmers are already required to farm according to Good Management Practice. The more intensive activities require a land-use consent, an auditable Farm Environment Plan, which assesses risks to freshwater and can reduce the environmental impact of the farm, and the farmers must meet nutrient limits (for example, a limit on how much nitrogen can be lost from their farm).

It’s good to see some pragmatism around the ‘stock exclusion from waterways’ policy in the freshwater reforms, with a reduction of setback distances from 5m to 3m on flat land and more sensible criteria on hill country sheep and beef farms.

The increased stringency of the nitrogen toxicity bottom line of 2.4 milligrams per litre of nitrogen in some of our lowland waterways will be much more challenging to achieve.

A great deal of the research and science needed to reduce nitrogen loss to waterways is still in early development and the nitrogen already in the system will unfortunately continue appearing over many decades.

Find out more about Good Management Practice, Farm Environment Plans, Consent to farm and farm rules

Turning around decades of degradation

Farmers are committed to playing their part and should be acknowledged for their hard work so-far in the long journey to turn around decades of degradation.

At Environment Canterbury we view the new reforms as, in some ways, a recognition of the work that has been done in our region already.

We are on the right track. The challenge now is to get all Cantabrians to step-up to the next level and take further action to minimise their impacts on our natural environment.

*Cr Claire McKay is colead of the Environment Canterbury freshwater portfolio and is also a member of the Hurunui Waiau Zone Committee and the CWMS Regional Committee. Find out more about Claire McKay.