Investigation into whether the Otago Regional Council was adequately carrying out its freshwater management functions

On 16 May 2019 the Minister for the Environment engaged Professor Peter Skelton to investigate whether the Otago Regional Council was adequately carrying out its functions related to freshwater management and allocation of resources. 

The investigation was carried out under section 24A of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA). The report of the investigation findings and recommendations was delivered to the Minister on 1 October 2019. The Minister sent his own recommendations to the Otago Regional Council on 18 November 2019 and asked for a formal response by 24 December 2019.

About the review

The Minister is concerned about the adequacy of the Otago Regional Council’s planning framework for managing freshwater. Specifically the Minister wanted to know if the Council has, or will have, a RMA-compliant planning and consenting framework in place to process and make decisions on new water permits by 1 October 2021. This is the date on which the region’s remaining historic deemed permits (originally called mining privileges) expire, together with other RMA water permits.

Terms of reference for the review [PDF, 252 KB]

Note the deadline for the final report was extended to 1 October 2019.

Investigation report to the Minister for the Environment

The report of Professor Peter Skelton highlights that the Otago region ‘is at a critical juncture for freshwater planning’. Existing planning provisions to manage freshwater are inadequate and there is a high level of water abstraction and significant alteration of natural flows. Also a large number of deemed water permits will expire on 1 October 2021.

The investigation has been informed by input from the Otago Regional Council; Aukaha (representing Kāi Tahu); and a range of stakeholders, including local farmers and water users, environmental groups, the Department of Conservation (DOC), Federated Farmers, Irrigation New Zealand, the Otago Fish and Game Council, and two district council mayors.

The report has found that a new freshwater planning framework is required for Otago. This will require a comprehensive programme of work, which will involve a complete review of the Regional Policy Statement by November 2020 and a new Land and Water Regional Plan by 31 December 2023.

The report also finds that it will be important to complete the new freshwater planning framework before undertaking an assessment of new or replacement water consent applications. For this purpose, the report recommends that the Minister for the Environment consider a possible extension to the expiry date for the deemed permits. 

In the meantime, interim measures are necessary to provide short-term provisions for managing freshwater until the new Regional Policy Statement and the New Land and Water Regional Plan are completed. This will involve a robust consenting regime which will avoid the granting of long term consents during the interim period.

Investigation of freshwater management and allocation functions at Otago Regional Council: Report to the Minister for the Environment

Minister for the Environment's recommendations to Otago Regional Council

The Minister wrote to the Otago Regional Council on 18 November 2019 enclosing the report and making recommendations to the Council under section 24A. The Minister notes that the main message of the investigation report is that the Otago region does not have a fit for purpose freshwater planning framework.

The Minister has recommended that the Otago Regional Council:

take all necessary steps to develop a fit for purpose freshwater management planning regime that gives effect to the relevant national instruments and sets a coherent framework for assessing all water consent applications, including those that are to replace any deemed permits
develop and adopt a programme of work to achieve the following:
by November 2020, a complete review of the current Regional Policy Statement that is publicly notified, with the intention that it be made operative before the review of its Water Plan is notified
by 31 December 2023, a new land and water regional plan for Otago that includes region-wide objectives, strategic policies, region-wide activity policies, and provisions for each of the Freshwater Management Units sections that will cover all the catchments within the region
The Minister had indicated that he is not in favour of changing the RMA to extend the date for expiry of deemed permits and states that a 30-year transition period was already provided to manage this issue. To assist the management of deemed permits, the Minister has recommended that the Council prepare a plan change by 31 March 2020 that will provide an adequate interim planning and consenting framework to manage freshwater up until the time that new discharge and allocation limits are set, in line with the requirements in the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

The Minister has also required that the council provide six-monthly progress reports, with the first report due by 30 April 2020 until the end of 2025.

Letter to the Otago Regional Council re s24A investigation from Hon David Parker 18 November 2019 [PDF, 425 KB]

Correspondence between Minister Parker and Peter Skelton

Letter to Peter Skelton re s24A investigation from Hon David Parker [PDF, 272 KB] - 13 November 2019

Letter to Hon David Parker re s24A investigation from Peter Skelton [PDF, 160 KB] - 14 November 2019

Further steps

Otago Regional Council were to:

  • prepare a formal response to the Minister for the Environment by 24 December 2019 
  • prepare a plan change to establish interim measures for short-term consents by 31 March 2020
  • submit the first 6-monthly progress report by 30 April 2020
  • notify a new Regional Policy Statement by November 2020.