The Otago Regional Council’s (ORC) water strategy is set for a radical shakeup following a government investigation last year into the council’s inability to deal with deemed water permits evolved from historic gold-mining water rights now used to mainly farm irrigation. By LG magazine Otago contributor, Denise McNabb.
Former Environment Court judge, Professor Peter Skelton, who completed the investigation for Environment Minister, David Parker in October last year, found the Otago region did not have a fit for purpose planning framework in place to appropriately manage new water permit applications before they expired on October 1, 2021.
As a result, Parker has drawn up a stringent time-frame for the ORC to meet objectives to fall in line with the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management. And the council has agreed to adopt the raft of recommendations.
The first, next month (March), must provide an adequate interim planning and consenting framework to manage freshwater up until the time new discharge and allocation limits are set.
The ORC will be required by December 31, 2023 to have in place a new Land and Water Regional Plan for Otago that includes region-wide objectives, strategic policies, region-wide activity policies, and provisions for each of the Freshwater Management Units, covering all catchments for the region.
The recommendation causing most alarm among farmers is the creation of short-term consents of up to five years for water permits, while the council reviews its policy plans.
Farmers have publicly aired concerns that this caused them uncertainty for their future and could affect their ability to get bank loans to make improvements on their properties.
This article was first published in the February 2020 issue of Local Government Magazine.