Part 6: Collaboration and innovative practice

Managing freshwater quality: Challenges for regional councils.

In this Part, we set out examples of good practice that we saw during our audit. In particular, we discuss:

Our overall findings

We found many examples of central and local government agencies, iwi, dairy sector bodies, farmers, and communities working together to address freshwater quality issues. We consider that there is much value in taking a collaborative approach to freshwater quality issues and that this is likely to lead to positive outcomes.

Regional councils were embracing new technology to help with managing freshwater quality.

Collaboration between entities

We were encouraged to find central and local government agencies, iwi, the dairy sector, farmers, and communities recognising the value of taking a collaborative approach to maintaining and enhancing freshwater quality. Collaboration between agencies and other stakeholders is valuable for:

  • creating a shared vision and goals;
  • facilitating cost sharing;
  • sharing a wider range of perspectives, skills, and tools; and
  • working towards joint goals in an effective and efficient manner.

We noted good examples of entities working to manage freshwater quality at all levels. At the governance level, we noted:

  • the Land and Water Forum – which brought organisations and stakeholders together to recommend reforms to freshwater management;
  • the Land and Water Sub-Committee at Waikato Regional Council – which will help to facilitate discussions between councillors and elected officials within the dairy sector; and
  • the Manawatu River Leaders' Accord signed by Horizons Regional Council, iwi, and industry, farming, and community leaders with an interest in the Manawatu River – each signatory has committed to cleaning up the river in an integrated and collaborative manner.

At the local authority level, we noted:

  • the Compliance and Enforcement Special Interest Group – which has brought together 14 regional councils to achieve greater consistency in assessing and reporting compliance with dairy effluent management rules;
  • the Local Authority Environmental Monitoring Group – which is working to create standardised methods for regional councils to use to continuously monitor freshwater variables;
  • the joint regional council and unitary authority initiative (led by Horizons Regional Council) to build the Land and Water New Zealand website – which collates and presents national resource information in a standardised manner, allowing users access to nationwide resource information (including on freshwater quality); and
  • the joint review and community consultation on the regional policy statement for Southland and the Southland district plan by Environment Southland and Southland District Council – the two councils are collaborating with stakeholders and the community to achieve an integrated framework for resource management in Southland.

There were several positive examples of regional councils working with the Crown, iwi, the dairy sector, and communities to improve freshwater quality:

  • the Crown, Waikato Regional Council, Taupo District Council, and Tuwharetoa's response to community concern about declining water quality in Lake Taupo, which resulted in a plan change that introduced a cap and trade framework38 to reduce the level of nutrients entering Lake Taupo;
  • the multi-agency39 response led by Environment Southland to prevent further freshwater quality deterioration in the Waituna Lagoon;
  • strong levels of collaboration between Environment Southland and Te Ao Mārama Incorporated in many aspects of freshwater management, including funding, administrative support, research, and scientific monitoring; and
  • regional councils and dairy sector representatives jointly participating in long-term farm research projects, planning a nationally consistent approach to dairy effluent management, and running on-farm educational workshops.

Finally, there were a number of areas where regional councils are working with farmers to bring about best practice in on-farm activities that could affect freshwater quality. These include regional councils:

  • employing farm advisors to provide assurance and advice to farmers on their farming methods to minimise on-farm environmental effects as much as possible while maintaining a high level of productivity and cost-effectiveness;
  • helping farmers with preparing farm plans to optimise sustainability and productivity (for example, by converting erosion-prone hill country to forestry); and
  • providing grants or other funding arrangements to support improved riparian management.

Using new technology to help manage freshwater quality

Regional councils were embracing new technology to support their efforts in maintaining and enhancing freshwater quality.

Availability of scientific resources and data

A number of regional councils are making good use of the Internet to share scientific resources with their communities. This includes reporting freshwater quality results on regional council websites, such as:

  • Horizons Regional Council WaterMatters and the WaterQualityMatters websites, which quickly report monitoring results;
  • the comprehensive scientific data available on Environment Southland's and Waikato Regional Council's respective websites; and
  • the Land and Water New Zealand website (see paragraph 6.6).

Pond Size Calculator

Horizons Regional Council and Massey University collaboratively developed the Pond Size Calculator. The Calculator enables farmers to test a range of scenarios to work out how much dairy effluent storage they need to safely store effluent without it overflowing into waterways during heavy rain.

The Pond Size Calculator uses information specific to each farm, such as climate, soil type, size of herd, and milking practices, to work out the amount of effluent storage needed. Having enough effluent storage reduces the risk of non-compliance with consent conditions and rules, and allows for effluent to be applied to pastures when soil can best take up nutrients. The Calculator technology has been shared with nine other regional councils.

Automated and continuous sampling

A number of councils are upgrading their freshwater quality monitoring networks and installing automated sampling equipment. The automated equipment can take water samples every five to 15 minutes. It sends the test results back to the regional council using radio or cellphone technology. The data are available for use or for uploading to a website within an hour of measurement.

This "continuous" measurement provides a more accurate determination of what is happening to waterways than the one reading a month that is typically associated with non-continuous sampling regimes. The automated measurement allows for timely responses to freshwater monitoring results that require action.

Land mapping

Horizons Regional Council is "land mapping" farms within its non-regulatory programme to prevent further erosion on hill country farms. The land mapping is part of "whole farm plan" development and involves assessing farm landscapes for rock type, soil types, slope, vegetation coverage, and areas of erosion and collecting information on water resources, biodiversity, and farm infrastructure. The mapping also collects details about fertiliser application, soil test history, stock numbers, and farm management history to use in business analysis.

Horizons Regional Council also uses some of the information collected during these mapping exercises in its soil and erosion databases.

Riparian management tender evaluation database

Taranaki Regional Council's riparian management programme encourages farmers to fence and plant trees along stream banks. The programme is supported by a tendering system developed by the Council. The Council purchases bulk supplies of plants from various plant nurseries then supplies these plants at cost to the landowners. This system has been used by other councils. Plant sales for 2010/11 have increased by 50,000 plants from the previous year to rise to 328,000.

Underpinning the plant scheme is a tender-evaluation database designed and built by Taranaki Regional Council. While preparing an implementation strategy for the riparian management programme, the Council identified that time and cost was the biggest barrier to farmers fencing and planting along stream banks. However, once farmers realised that they were saving money on plants, and could use the saved funds to pay a contractor to complete the work, they were keen to allow the Council, on behalf of individual farmers, to organise professional contractors to plant the riparian margins. The Council tenders for planting contracts, and by doing this is able to ensure the quality of plantings, obtain the best prices, and pass these savings on to the farmers. This is particularly useful for first-time riparian planters, and also helps to ensure that plants are successfully established.

38: Cap and trade is a market-based environmental policy tool that sets a mandatory cap (limit) on emissions, and then allows trading of emissions permits between businesses or individuals within the capped limit.

39: Department of Conservation, DairyNZ, Fonterra, Federated Farmers, Beef and Lamb, Southland District Council, Invercargill City Council, Fish and Game Councils, several community groups, iwi, and local farmers and residents.

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