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