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Published: 2012-07-26 00:00:00

Waikato Regional Council’s land and water quality sub-committee has today recommended a historic new draft regional plan change process to help protect and restore the Waikato and Waipa rivers.

The draft plan change process – which still needs to be signed off by the policy committee and full council at a future date - will involve close collaboration with river iwi, stakeholders such as the farming sector, and the wider community.

The five river iwi involved as partners in the draft plan change are Ngati Maniapoto, Raukawa, Te Arawa river iwi, Ngati Tuwharetoa and Waikato-Tainui.

The recommended draft plan change process reflects the fact that water quality in the Waikato and Waipa rivers has been degraded by many factors over the years, such as discharges of nutrients from agricultural land, industrial and municipal discharges, and sediment from land.

Under the guidance of co-management legislation for the two rivers, iwi and the council will work in close partnership, and with stakeholders, on policies and rules designed to protect the health and wellbeing of the two rivers.

The draft plan change process is designed to give effect to the Waikato and Waipa rivers-related Treaty settlements and agreements between the Crown and the five river iwi. A key part of the negotiated outcomes was the introduction of a Vision and Strategy designed to protect and restore the rivers and the health of their catchments. The Government’s new national policy statement for freshwater management also requires action on this front.

The draft plan change process is due to examine a change to the regional plan rules to address the priority issue of the effects of discharges to land and water on the rivers. This is particularly relevant to the effects of discharges of nutrients and sediment from agricultural land. Having water quality limits and targets will be a central part of the considerations.

A joint working party involving the council and iwi agreed the scope of the work should be limited to the effects on the two waterways of diffuse sources (leaching and run-off from land) and point sources (such as industrial discharges) as a matter of urgent priority, with further work on updating the plan to be carried out in future.

It is intended that a possible plan change for the Waihou-Piako and Coromandel catchments, and the west coast catchment area, would be looked at in subsequent stages to help fulfill council responsibilities under the national policy statement for freshwater management, a report to today’s council meeting said.

It is intended that actual work on the draft plan change process will begin in September and involve discussions between the council, iwi, key stakeholders and the wider community on how best the parties can chart the way forward together. A formal proposed plan change is expected to be publicly notified for submissions in 2015, triggering further opportunities for stakeholder and community input into the shape of any plan change.