Otago Regional Council given deadline for freshwater management plan

  • Hon David Parker

A four-month investigation by former Environment Court judge Professor Peter Skelton found that Otago’s freshwater planning system is not fit for purpose to manage the region’s rivers, lakes and aquifers and that the Council has inadequate rules for the taking of water and the discharge of nutrients.

“Existing planning provisions to manage freshwater are inadequate to deal with the expiry of the Otago mining privileges, known as deemed permits, in only two years,” Environment Minister David Parker said.

“The predicament with deemed permits has been many years in the making. A 30-year transition period was provided to manage them. While the current council can’t be held accountable for the lack of past progress, it can take action now to improve its freshwater management framework.”

There are 356 deemed permits and about 180 other water permits that will expire on or before 1 October 2021.

“The Otago region is at a critical juncture for freshwater planning. I have written to the council recommending that, as a matter of priority, it develop a new Regional Policy Statement to be operative by 1 April 2022, and a new Land and Water Regional Plan to be operative by 31 December 2025,” David Parker said.

Professor Skelton’s report also concluded that the council’s science and planning departments are under-resourced for the workload ahead.

David Parker rejected a recommendation in the report to extend the expiry date for the deemed permits by amending the Resource Management Act, preferring that the Council implement a narrow plan change to enable short term RMA consents, in place of the deemed permits, pending completion of the wider water plan.

The Otago Regional Council has until Christmas to set out the steps it will take to resolve these issues.

The investigation of freshwater management at the Otago Regional Council by Professor Skelton, who was an Environment Canterbury commissioner, was undertaken at David Parker’s request.

It follows through on the Government’s commitment to improve the operation of the Resource Management system and improve the management of freshwater after years of neglect.

“I want to thank Professor Skelton for his comprehensive report. I also want to acknowledge the assistance of Otago Regional Council during the investigation and the willingness of the Council to move on and make up for lost time in its water management functions – I look forward to its response to the report before the end of the year,” David Parker said.

Copies of the report and related correspondence are available on the Environment Ministry website.