Farmers in South Canterbury between the Ashburton and Rangitata Rivers, have only until 24 October to make submissions on Variation 2 to the Environment Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan (pLWRP), which will affect farming in the area significantly.

With this in mind, we have produced a very brief overview of some key features of the Variation. They show that farmers can be significantly affected by the Variation and should make further inquiries to protect their positions and make sure they don't miss this limited opportunity to have their say.

  1. Variation 2 relates specifically to the Hinds/Hekeao Plains area and is Environment Canterbury's response to its assessment that the area's water resources are under threat from over allocation and contamination by nutrients like nitrogen contained in farm runoff.
  2. This Variation sets specific water quality and quantity targets and limits for the area, along with rules and policies designed to help to achieve those targets. (See Section 13 (Ashburton) of the proposed Canterbury Land and Water Regional Plan, which this Variation radically changes). Although "proposed", the rules and policies will take immediate effect alongside the "general" rules of the pLWRP.

The Hinds/Hekeao Plains area

  1. The Hinds/Hekeao Plains area consists of the Hinds River/Hekeao catchment, and the plains between the Rangitata and Hakatera/Ashburton River. This is split into three smaller zones to which certain rules apply (Plains, Upper and Lower). (See below Variation 2 planning boundary)

The changes

  1. This Variation sets a number of limits for the Hinds/Hekeao Plains Area on how much "nutrient" can be lost into ground and surface water from farming, and how much water is available to be taken from ground and surface water for uses such as irrigation, community drinking supply and other purposes.

Its assessment is that the nutrient being lost and the water that can be taken under existing consents is more than the catchment can accommodate. The Variation therefore not only imposes rules that largely prevent increases in nutrient-generating activities (like farming) or the amount of water taken above the specified limits, but it also includes targets to be met through policies and rules to reduce nutrient loss and water allocation. It further includes rules aimed at protecting water bodies from damage by stock, diversions and other activities in or near the beds of lakes, rivers and wetlands.

  1. Overall it considerably tightens controls on farming and related activities that ECan considers put water quality and quantity at risk, by providing area-specific rules and controls that override the general rules of the current pLWRP. Some of the key changes are:
    • Stricter rules for the land use of farming to control loss of "nutrients" like nitrogen, phosphorous and ammonia.
    • Exclusion of stock from waterways, wetlands and lakes;
    • Tighter limits on the take and use of ground and surface water;
    • Prohibiting water transfers altogether;
    • Differing limits for nutrient loss and water takes, depending on location.
  1. The Upper Hinds/Hekeao Plains area is assessed as being under less stress from nutrient; and the Lower Hinds/Hekeao Plains is assessed as being at greater risk.

For example, while larger farming activities in the Upper area can avoid consent requirements by complying with strict controls and conditions set out in the plan, in the Lower area, consents will basically be unavoidable for all larger properties after 1 January 2017. In all areas increases above the baseline generally become non-complying activities, making it very hard to get consent. In most cases this effectively prevents new farm development or conversions. However, small farming activities can avoid these issues. For example for the "land use" of farming, small farming activities (below 5ha) will be permitted if they can keep their nitrogen losses below 20kg/ha/annum or at or below their baseline loss for 2009-2013.

  1. Area-specific rules for water take and use are also included, with the prohibited activity status generally being imposed on takes and uses that do not comply with limits for the applicable areas. These are only some of the new restrictions proposed.
  2. The submission period on the Variation closes at 5:00pm on Friday 24 October 2014 and you must make a submission before then if you want to comment on or oppose these changes.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.