The management of water in as key resource to human welfare, agriculture, recreation and ecology and a cornerstone of resource management. However, water management is becoming an issue that is fast reaching a critical mass locally in Otago and throughout New Zealand. The government’s decision to continue to sell assets despite the Waitangi Tribunal’s recent request to resolve the ownership issue is a further (but necessary) complication to an issue of national importance. Whether iwi own water or not, there is good reason to suggest that our resource management processes and decision-making over water resources are far from ideal in New Zealand. There is clearly a need for a better process of engagement between communities, iwi, business, and recreational interests over water management and allocation. Looking around at local issues in water it’s easy to see why a wider more collegiate process is required.
It has been recently reported that the Tokomariro River South of Dunedin is likely to be one of Otago’s most polluted waterways. What is shocking about this result is that it’s not just part of the river but almost the entire catchment as it grapples with intensive land use changes in the area. The Otago Regional Council are currently undertaking a Proposed Plan Change 6A (Water Quality) that has come into effect since March 2012 and seeks to improve the run off from farms with a transition period of 2017 for discharges and 2019 for nitrogen loading. The plan change is welcome, but already Federated Farmers have criticised the Otago changes saying the alteration to nitrogen loading is heavy-handed and will not compensate farmers who will require significant investment to meet the new targets.
If changes are not made to the effects of land intensification and modification we run the real risk that Otago will see more areas like the Tokomariro River and the further decline of ecological health in our region’s waterways. The complexity of water management and the associated pressures on the resource means we must find common ground between regulating agencies, land owners, iwi and end users. Water quality and appropriate resource management should be a collective goal, rather than being a disparate unobtainable one defined by self interest and finger pointing.