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Tricky topics . . . Freshwater proposals prompted a turnout of more than 250 people at Phar Lap Raceway last week. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

by Greta Yeoman

Questions over water quality data, the cost of fencing proposals and proper community consultation were all raised at a community freshwater meeting last week.

More than 250 people attended the Ministry for the Environment’s noon meeting at Phar Lap Raceway last Thursday, to discuss the recently released draft National Environment Standards on Freshwater management plan.

Ministry for the Environment principal adviser Bryan Smith said the main points of the plan were to prevent further degradation of waterways and to restore them within a generation.

He insisted that while councils would be able to make their own decisions about timeframes to implement changes to waterway policies, they would also be reviewed and assessed by an independent panel.

“It’s up to communities when to enact these outcomes.”

The independent panel would include two government-appointed members, two others appointed by the regional council and one tangata whenua representative – along with a former Environment Court judge as the chairperson.

Some farmers raised concerns that there was not a designated farming representative on the panel, however Mr Smith said it was a neutral body, rather than having “lobby groups” on it.

“You can’t write a rule in Wellington about where to put a fence.”

Farmer Tom Henderson cited the Opuha Dam as an example of good outcomes when local communities made decisions for their residents.

He said that kind of success needed to be made at a hyper-local level, not by “well-educated people from Christchurch”.

Farmers present raised concerns about the cost of proposed mandatory farm plans, which were estimated to cost about $3500 in the first instance, and then about $1500 to audit every 2 to 3 years.

They also were concerned about plans to implement a 5m setback for fencing near rivers that were more than 1m wide.

However, Mr Smith said the specifics of these plans would be part of the advice provided in the farm plans, rather than Government implementing a blanket rule for the entire country.

“You can’t write a rule in Wellington about where to put a fence,” Mr Smith said.

One farmer slammed the plan, saying the ministry had “no idea of the implications for farmers”, particularly concerning the costs.

Another farmer also challenged the timeframes of the Government consultation period, which had been extended from six weeks to two months after a backlash.

“We do need more time .. we need six months.”

Mackenzie high country farmer Simon Williamson, who is also a former Federated Farmers high country representative, questioned the Government’s information about water quality.

“Where are these degrading waterways around South Canterbury?”

It was also a stance held by Federated Farmers North Otago representative and Environment Canterbury candidate Jared Ross, who said 45% of rivers had improved and 25% had insufficient data.

Lake Opuha, the Orari River at the Orari Gorge, and the Opihi at the State Highway 1 bridge were all rated “green” or “safe for swimming” by Land, Air, Water Aotearoa, however, the Opihi further upstream at the Salesyard Bridge was rated “red” or “unsafe for swimming”.

The Pareora and Waihao Rivers’ monitoring sites rated either red or orange (caution advised), while the Temuka River at SH1 also rated red.