Water still at the heart of Canterbury’s main environmental concerns
KIRK HARGREAVES / Tips
Leaching of nitrates from agricultural irrigation is one of the main concerns voiced in many submissions heard by ECan advisers on Tuesday.
Concerns over water-related tariff increases and calls to save the region’s waterways from intensive agriculture dominated the opening day of hearings on the Draft Long-Range Plan (LTP) of Canterbury Environment (ECan).
The LTP has proposed an average tariff increase of 24.5% or 18% across the region, to help cover the fallout from new government freshwater regulations.
The regional council received 1,291 submissions on the plan, including 275 wishing to be heard in person. The first group appeared on Tuesday.
ECan President Jenny Hughey said the proposed rate hikes were not as bad as they looked, with the actual dollar amount being comparatively low for most taxpayers, especially those in Christchurch, where 3% was expected if the higher rate hike was approved.
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Ashburton farmer Keith Townshend told council the rural community felt “attacked, targeted and unfairly overwhelmed.”
Its rates would increase by 90% under the first option, or 82% under the second option, he said.
“I feel really drained … the rural sector is struggling to stay alive.”
Townshend wanted the rate increase limited to 8 percent and proposed cutting back on youth engagement and climate change action programs.
He also argued that many of the new guidelines in the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management were almost impossible for farmers to meet.
“We have invested $ 55 million to $ 60 million here in Canterbury as part of Canterbury’s water management strategy [CWMS]. The central government must be informed of what we have already done. Please push back. “
Chrys Horn, who ran as the Green Party candidate for Christchurch Central in last year’s election, backed the rate hike.
She said ECan is not taking a precautionary approach to managing nitrate levels in Christchurch water.
“There are serious questions about the limits of the World Health Organization [11.3 milligrams per litre], which could very well be 11 to 12 times too high. We know they are far too high to protect the stygofauna that keep the water in our aquifers clean. “
Environment Minister David Parker told Morning Report WHO guidelines were being followed. “There is no plan to immediately reduce the New Zealand standard for nitrates in drinking water.” (First published on February 23, 2021)
Horn said it was more expensive to remove nitrates from the water than to keep them out.
“It seems we don’t test our water for pesticides [either]. Without surveillance, we have no idea what’s going on. “
Selwyn District Mayor Sam Broughton urged ECan to consider the economic effects of the freshwater package on the agricultural sector, as well as on Selwyn families and communities.
“We believe that the CWMS watershed approach to challenges and improvement is a better way to solve freshwater problems, rather than a single national decree.”
Forest & Bird Canterbury Regional Director Nicky Snoyink called on ECan to make a point of restoring democracy throughout its work, after 10 years of being led by government-appointed commissioners when advisers were sacked for not being able to agree on water issues.
She said the lack of public consultation on the recently approved consent for irrigation of Mayfield-Hinds-Valetta, which covers 56,500 hectares of Mid-Canterbury farmland, was one example.
“Full public participation in water management decisions that adversely affect ecosystem health and public health is vital.”
Snoyink said the wider community strongly supported ECan to take a stronger stance on polluting freshwater activities.
Braided River Aid President Nick Ledgard also encouraged more work to conserve biodiversity in the region’s unique rivers.
“Wrybill, black-fronted terns, black-billed gulls – all of these bird species are now listed as endangered with populations in decline.
“LTP has some really good words in it… I don’t like to call them platitudes. But we have to see actions. “
James Nikitin, of local marine science start-up Blue Cradle Foundation, argued that the ocean has been largely overlooked in the plan, although Canterbury has 800 km of coastline.
He said climate change, microplastics, industrial wastes and excess nutrients from agriculture all impact downstream on the marine environment.
Nikitin said the LTP did not appear to take into account the area beyond the coast and that ECan needed a dedicated ocean portfolio to deal with these issues.