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Published: 2012-04-11 00:00:00

A large proportion of dairy water take consents required under the new Variation 6 water allocation policy should only need to go through a “relatively simple” process, the regional council’s resource use and environmental monitoring committee heard today.

“It’s good to hear that council staff are advancing implementation plans for the new consents regime with a view to making things as smooth as possible for farmers,” committee chair Lois Livingston said afterwards.

Variation 6 – which officially became operative yesterday – is designed to manage water allocation in the region in the face of competing demands from all sectors of the community whilst making sure a healthy environment is maintained.

The new policy affirms an existing requirement that any farmer taking more than 15 cubic metres a day of water for dairy shed wash down and milk cooling must have a resource consent. It is likely farms with more than 215 cows will use more water than this, meaning some 3400 farms need a consent. The council is keen to process these in a structured and phased way.

A report to the committee outlined how the council was developing a plan to handle the significant number of consent applications that will be made. This planning is being done in conjunction with industry groups including dairy companies, Federated Farmers and DairyNZ. It is hoped this implementation strategy will be finalised before Fieldays in June.

Staff wanted to ensure “a clear, concise and simple process for the affected farmers”, the report said.

Under Variation 6, farmers are “grandparented” their pre-2008 water take levels provided various conditions are met, including the provision of evidence showing the amount of water that was being taken prior to  October 2008, lodging a consent application by 1 January 2015, and excluding stock from waterways and developing a riparian management plan (if the take is from surface water).

“The key message currently being conveyed to farmers is that so long as they engage with the council, they can be confident of obtaining consent for the amount of water that was being used pre October 2008,” the report said.

However, for operations that began or increased water use after 2008, the success of applications for more than 15 cubic metres a day would depend on range of factors including the existing allocation level in the catchment.

“In waterways and catchments where rivers and streams are already fully allocated, any new water take will require consent, even if it is less than 15 cubic metres per day,” the report said.

These factors reinforce the importance for anyone doing a dairy conversion or intensifying an existing operation to consider water availability as part of their decision making.

“The scale and importance of the issues involved in implementing Variation 6 are vast, given that managing them well is essential to the environmental and economic health of our region,” said Cr Livingston.

“We are grateful that the agriculture sector and other parties have been so willing to work with us closely on introducing Variation 6 in a coordinated way.”

Meanwhile, the committee heard that immediately following the Environment Court decision on Variation 6 water take consent applications had been received from two big agricultural concerns.

These applications - together with existing applications - would, if granted, result in the allocation of the full amount of “extra” water made available by the court between Lake Taupo and the Karapiro Dam. When issuing its decision on Variation 6, the court increased the amount available from 3.6 per cent to five per cent of a river flow measure known as Q5, equivalent to increasing the allocable take from 5.3 cubic metres per second to 7.4 cubic metres a second.

The committee also heard that anecdotally some farmers were irritated that these two applications, which could effectively take all the extra water, were being dealt with on a “first in, first served” basis. 

The committee was advised that this is not a matter over which the council has discretion. The law as it currently stands requires the applications to be treated in this way. It would require a Supreme Court ruling to overturn the first in, first served principle.