At a special council meeting this week, councillors endorsed an Environment Waikato submission to the Guardians Establishment Committee involved in setting up the co-governance arrangements, involving Waikato-Tainui, for the future management of the river. However, the submission also suggested the committee could be “bolder” over setting water quality standards.
The submission congratulated the committee members for their quick work together to develop the strategy and vision.
“This bodes well for the new era of co-management sought in the Waikato-Tainui River settlement and given expression in the Proposed Vision and Strategy,” the submission said.
It acknowledged that many of the river management strategies would involve Environment Waikato, either as an agency which collects and holds data on the Waikato River or undertakes environmental management functions that impact on the river.
The submission said the Guardians Establishment Committee goals were generally common to those of Environment Waikato, and to views expressed by the community in the regional council’s surveys.
“Consistency between the aspirations in the Proposed Vision and Strategy and those expressed by the community is heartening, as gaining buy-in from the whole community to the framework and directions is extremely important.”
But the submission also suggested that significant value would be added if the document clearly enunciated the issues the vision and strategy are seeking to address.
“In this way, it could be seen how the objectives relate to the issue that they are trying to solve,” the submission said. It felt clearer definitions regarding “net improvements” and “no further degradation” in water quality were required.
There would also need to be broad community debate about any trade offs between social, cultural, economic and environmental well-beings associated with some of the objectives and strategies.
“The strategies signal a potentially significant change in land use practices and, potentially, to land use patterns. This would result in significant social and economic effects, particularly for the communities in the upper Waikato and Waipa Rivers. A debate is required about the significance of these effects on current communities, bearing in mind the inter-generational effects of not achieving the strategies.”
The submission also said the pace of implementing strategies needed to match the pace at which people can adapt to change and must take into account impacts on communities. Pointing to the time it has taken Environment Waikato to introduce measures to cap nitrogen leaching into Lake Taupo, it said some strategies may take longer than the ten years envisaged in the vision and strategy document.
But the submission also encouraged the committee to be “bolder” in setting water quality standards for the Waikato River, as water quality under the current vision and strategy would not improve at a much greater rate than currently expected under policies and works of Environment Waikato and other agencies.
In particular, it suggested the committee adopt quality standards for recreational use along the entire length of the river, higher targets for planting vegetation beside the river to help improve quality, and have a goal that the current generation ensures future generations have at least the water quality of today.
It was also important to acknowledge that, even if all human activity was stopped in the catchment, the water quality of the Waikato River would get worse before it gets better because of the slow passage of nutrients from land and groundwater that eventually flows into surface water.
On funding, the submission said that if the committee wished to accelerate work that is undertaken by Environment Waikato, beyond what has been agreed with the community, then funding for this work needs to be increased and not via rates.
“This is consistent with assurances to Environment Waikato from various Ministers that the cost of the Waikato-Tainui settlement will not fall on ratepayers as it represents an agreement between the Crown and Waikato-Tainui.”