IT has been years in the making and now Environment Southland’s Southland Water and Land Plan, a contentious plan to manage water quality in Southland, is in its final stage of development before becoming operational.
The revised version of the plan, released last week, follows extensive public consultation during the past three years, a formal submission process which attracted 947 submissions, and a 26-day hearing before five commissioners last year.
“[The release of the revised plan] is quite a milestone for Environment Southland (ES),” chairman Nicol Horrell said.
“We believe the plan has been substantially improved following the consultation… and the document is much more user friendly.”
Mr Horrell said he hoped the public would take ownership of the plan because they had helped to shape it.
ES policy, planning and regulatory services director Vin Smith said the hearing commissioners had taken the time to listen and consider the submissions and, as a result, the document had been refined and simplified.
” I think the plan is far better than it was when it was first notified. The commissioners have really listened.”
The proposed Southland Water and Land Plan is a combination of the outgoing Regional Water Plan for Southland and Regional Effluent Land Application Plan.
It seeks to address the problem of declining water quality in the region by imposing controls on activities which significantly effect water quality, such as land use intensification and discharging to land or freshwater.
It defines what can be done with and without resource consent and what activities will be prohibited.
Although most of the rules related to rural land use, there were rules for how territorial authorities managed and monitored stormwater and wastewater systems.
“This is a total Southland problem,” Mr Horrell said.
The document had been developed in line with ES’s obligations under the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.
Among the changes in the revised plan, the altitude limit on cultivation on sloping ground had been increased from 700m to 800m and the discharge of contaminants in urban areas revised from a non-complying activity to being subject to a discretionary consent.
The requirement for all farms to have a farm environmental management plan remained in the revised plan, but the requirements had been simplified with a greater focus on actions and contaminant pathways rather than the physiographic zones (areas of the landscape with common attributes which influence water quality, such as climate, topography, geology and soil type).
“We hope people will realise [developing a farm management plan] is not that hard…and they need to do their bit,” Mr Horrell said.
Mr Smith said landowners could continue to carry out their permitted farming activities without a consent until the plan became operational, as long as the nature and scale of the activity had not changed.
The public has until May 17 to appeal to the Environment Court.
Mr Smith said depending on the number of appeals, mediation would be the first step taken to address people’s concerns before going to the Environment Court.
The process would take about 18 months from when the appeals were lodged to when the plan became operational, he said.