Part 2: Implementing the Regulations and initial issues

Monitoring how water is used for irrigation.

In this Part, we discuss:

Management and monitoring of the implementation has been largely effective

Permit holders have installed a considerable number of meters to meet their obligations under the Regulations. At the time of this report, about 99% of high-use permit holders have meters. In some regions, lower-use permit holders (permit holders who take 5-10 litres of freshwater each second) have been slow to install water meters. The relevant councils are continuing to work with these lower-use permit holders to increase the number of water meters. In most regions, this is not a significant problem. We encourage councils to continue to work with lower-use permit holders to install water meters to meet their obligations.

The installation of meters has led to a significant increase in councils' information about water use. Although permit holders are responsible for recording the quantity of freshwater they are consuming, councils monitor, enforce, and implemented the Regulations.

For each of the six councils, there were clear plans for measuring water use through water metering. These included action plans, communications plans, and project management plans.

The six councils' plans for water metering were also integrated with their other plans and strategies, including plans for using and managing sources of freshwater. This helped integrate implementation and data collection with other activities and priorities (see Example 1).

Example 1
Environment Canterbury prepared thoroughly for implementation, including producing a "roadmap" that included timeframes, key roles and responsibilities for staff, detailed costs, and links between the implementation of the Regulations and the desired long-term outcomes.

Environment Canterbury also jointly developed industry-agreed standards. For example, "good management practices" were expected for all farming activities. Farmers and permit holders are required to maintain auditable Farm Environment Plans in case irrigation exceeds the permitted limits. These are checked by farm auditors who are certified by Environment Canterbury.

Councils set clear priorities and targets for installing and using water meters to ensure that these comply with the Regulations. Setting targets helped councils meet their objectives with installing water meters.

Appropriate governance and management allowed issues to be resolved when they came up. Governance bodies in the six councils (usually specific council committees) had appropriate oversight and were regularly informed about progress. When specific issues affected implementation and had the potential to slow data collection, such as some farmers' concerns about the cost of meter installation, they were brought to the attention of the governance body.

The six councils provide support and guidance to permit holders to help them comply with the Regulations. All of the six councils carefully planned how they would support permit holders and targeted their communications to them. This support took different forms according to local needs (see Examples 2 and 3), such as meeting with specific permit holders or local water management groups.

Example 2
Kiwifruit growers and dairy farmers use the highest quantities of freshwater in the Bay of Plenty region. Bay of Plenty Regional Council held five presentations throughout the region targeted at these groups. The presentations covered what permit holders were required to do under the Regulations, how the Regulations related to compliance and permits, and a new water records system.
Example 3
Marlborough District Council targeted support to the companies that verified the water meters that high-use permit holders would install. The Council used its consents database to identify these permit holders.

The six councils were regularly and comprehensively monitoring, reporting, and sometimes auditing the progress of implementing the regulation's requirements. One council put in place a compliance programme to check that meters were installed correctly, and another council had random inspections to check the installation quality. This information was used to ensure that they were meeting installation objectives.

We saw councils sharing information and working together to manage the new data from water meters. In one example of good practice, six councils (including one of the smaller ones from our sample) used a shared-software program they developed called IRIS.10

However, in general, we did not see councils working together to explore procurement processes for common software. In our view, this was a missed opportunity and might have helped reduce costs. Some councils were procuring the same type of software from the same providers independently of each other.

Councils are responsible for managing water metering in their regions. The overall programme is funded by rates and, in some cases, costs are recovered from permit holders. Councils also inspect and monitor water meters, which is usually paid for by permit holders.

In our view, the six councils appropriately considered how to fund implementation of the Regulations. In allocating costs, councils considered different options and relevant regional concerns.

Councils overcame challenges when overseeing water metering

There were some unexpected challenges with water meter installation, which led to delays (Example 4).

Example 4
Otago Regional Council had a situation that involved "deemed permits" – historical permits issued for mining purposes as much as 140 years ago that allowed the holder to use unspecified amounts of water. Without an allocated amount to compare use to, the Council could not determine compliance. It opted to use water-use data from the past five years to calculate a water allocation limit for people holding deemed permits.

In one region, an outbreak of the Pseudomonas syringae pv. Actinidiae bacteria meant that implementation had to be delayed to prevent the contamination spreading through site visits to permit holders' properties.

Installing water meters also initially stretched industry capacity. In some places, there was a significant shortage of installers and people to verify that water meters were installed and working correctly. In some cases even the meters were in short supply. This meant that implementation plans for the Regulations were sometimes delayed. These delays were made worse by the time needed to train contractors. To work through this, one council managing a large number of permit holders and water takes issued temporary waivers to permit holders to extend the installation time.

Contractors who went through the Blue Tick accreditation did most of the work to install and verify meters. One large region had a shortage of contractors and so the council allowed non-Blue Tick accredited installers to install and verify water meters. This region now operates under the Blue Tick programme. Documentation to control installation and verification was sound and appropriate.

Councils used different approaches to build capacity and capability and engage with stakeholder groups, contractors, and permit holders. Some councils purchased and provided technology for verifying the accuracy of water meters to support permit holders. Others organised workshops and established common definitions and understanding of the requirements of the Regulations and of how meters should be installed.

Some councils anticipated the need to support increased water-metering information

The six councils use different information technology and ways to store their data. All of the six councils invested in information technology that would enable them to produce good quality information. In our view, some councils were better prepared to receive water meter data. The better prepared councils typically had more water permits and freshwater sources to manage.

Some councils anticipated the increase in information about freshwater consumption before the Regulations were introduced. One council conducted telemetry trials in the late 2000s. Using these trials, this council was able to test the use of telemetry and data integration. It also prepared databases and registers to record and manage data from water meters and tested integrating data sources to inform water management. In our view, this is an example of good practice. The trials helped the council to ensure that it had robust systems and processes in place before the Regulations came into effect.

We saw other examples of councils making plans to deal with the increased volume of information. One council had set a clear policy on the increased use of metering data to encourage efficient water use. Wasting freshwater can be avoided by using metering data to better support water permit applications. Another council upgraded its systems to better receive freshwater information in response to more permit holders choosing to send their data automatically. Anticipating the increased volume of water-metering information meant that councils could collect and use this information more effectively once the Regulations came into effect.

10: The IRIS software system is designed to manage core regional council functions, including the regulatory areas of consents, compliance, biosecurity, and enforcement.