Article by the MCWSG summarising the ORC’s new water quality rules (Plan Change 6A)

Article posted on 15/10/2014

Complying with the ORC’s new water quality rules:

In May this year (2014) the Otago Regional Council introduced new water quality rules, known as Plan Change 6A (PC6A).

Basically, these rules will require the quality of water, when leaving your land, to meet standards set by the ORC in Schedule 16 of its Regional Water Plan.

Some of the rules are already in place and others come into effect in April 2020. However, to ensure you comply with the rules which will be introduced later, you need to begin recording certain information now.

The aim of PC6A is to ensure the quality of the water in rivers, lakes, wetlands, and aquifers is high – the water is clear of muck and odour, it’s safe to swim in, safe to gather food from, and it enables healthy aquatic ecosystems. In some areas this means ensuring the quality of water which is already high is maintained. In other areas it means taking steps to improve the quality of the water.

PC6A is different to water quality rules adopted by some other regional councils, in that it allows you to decide the best way to reduce the level of contaminants you’re discharging to water – based on your knowledge and preferences – in order to comply with the rules. In other words, the ORC isn’t seeking to control what type of land use you undertake, providing the effects of your land use on water quality meet its standards.

When considering the effects PC6A will have on you, a landowner in the Manuherikia catchment, you need to be mindful of the fact mining privileges will expire in 2021 and resource consent has to be obtained by then if you wish to continue irrigating your land. The ORC says that, as the Manuherikia catchment is over-allocated, only those who currently hold water permits are able to apply for replacement consents, and water granted will be based on what you have actually taken in the past and is no more than what you need.

Another plan change the ORC has completed was around group management of water. The council says it supports the Manuherikia Catchment Water Strategy Group’s work towards securing a catchment-wide resource consent for irrigation water in the valley. This approach is already being taken in other parts of the region, including by farmers in the Sowburn area.

Rules which apply now…

The aspects of the rules which apply now relate to sediment discharges. You can’t discharge contaminants into receiving water which produce an odour, a noticeable oily or greasy film, scum, or foam. Receiving water includes lakes; rivers; “regionally significant” wetlands; drains or water races which flow into lakes, rivers, wetlands, or to the coast; and bores, soakholes or effluent ponds which are not sealed.

Also under the discharge rules which apply now, you can’t discharge contaminants from an effluent pond or any other animal waste collection or storage system; silage pits; or composting systems into lakes; rivers or wetlands, including their beds; drains or water races which flow into them or to the coast; bores, soakholes or effluent ponds which are not sealed; or within 50 metres of lakes, rivers or wetlands, bores; soakholes; saturated land, or any land if it results in ponding or an overland flow to lakes, rivers, wetlands or the coast; or to drains or water races which flow into them.

Nor can you discharge sediment from disturbed land into lakes, rivers or wetlands, or to drains or water races which flow into them or to the coast.

Future rules which require action now…

The rules which come into effect in April 2020 – but require work by you now – are around discharge thresholds – the maximum amount of contaminants which can pass into water from your land, or from open drains or irrigation races on your land, when the flow of the waterway is at or below its median.

The discharge threshold rules which will apply from April 2020 require you to keep a record of the quality of the waterways on your land from this year. This is to identify if, and where, non-point source contaminants from your land exceed the allowed thresholds. You then have until April 2020 to introduce practices to ensure you meet the discharge thresholds.

In terms of nitrogen discharges to groundwater, which need to be within parameters specific to your area by April 2020, the ORC requires you calculate these from now using a programme called OVERSEER (version 6). It records your fertiliser use and farm activities so the nitrogen loss can be calculated. Nitrogen discharges to groundwater are calculated as an average annual nitrogen leaching rate. Your OVERSEER number is calculated across all the parts of your land which are located over the same nitrogen zone.

There are three nitrogen leaching zones, which each have limits of either 15, 20 or 30 kgN per hectare per year. Large lake catchments have a 15 kgN per hectare per year limit; sensitive aquifers have a 20 kgN per hectare per year limit; and the rest of Otago has a 30 kgN per hectare per year limit. The lower limits are to protect lake catchments and sensitive aquifers. The whole of the Manuherikia catchment has a limit of 30 kgN per hectare per year.

Schedule 16 of PC6A details the discharge thresholds which need to be met by April 2020 for nitrogen, plus phosphorus and E. coli.

Farm advisers and fertiliser representatives can help landowners identify which zone or zones their land is over and how to use the OVERSEER programme. This information must be provided to the ORC on request from this year.

In particular, if you’re considering changing the use of your land, you need to work out whether the nitrogen discharges which would result from the change would comply with the discharge thresholds for your area.

Some producers are exempt from the need to supply OVERSEER data to the ORC on request between 2014 and 2020. They are those growing pork outdoors, fruit (excluding grapes) and rotational vegetable crops. The ORC says these farmers must keep a record of the nitrogen applied to their land and follow their industry’s best management practices.

What will and won’t require consent under PC6A…

PC6A includes rules about what will and won’t require resource consent. Essentially, in areas where an activity has a minimal effect on a waterway, resource consent to discharge won’t be needed, providing certain conditions are met.

The rules allow contaminant discharges, including surface runoff, groundwater seepage and discharges from drains and races, providing that – after April 2020 – they comply with the thresholds for nitrogen, phosphorus and E. coli (which are set out in Schedule 16); they comply with the rules on nitrogen loss to groundwater (as calculated using OVERSEER); and they comply now with the conditions to control the effects of sediment runoff (as detailed above).

The ORC says there will be limited opportunities to apply for resource consent for discharges which don’t meet the allowed thresholds. However, gross discharges and objectionable activities which are known to degrade water quality were prohibited as of May of this year. The ORC says consent can’t be granted for such activities as they are prohibited. It has warned its compliance officers will be checking to ensure prohibited activities aren’t being undertaken and will seek to prosecute landowners who break this clear rule.

PC6A also includes rules around stock access to rivers, lakes and wetlands and it makes it easier to build stock crossings and bridges.

Find out more…

If you would like to read more about PC6A, click on this link to the ORC’s website:

Schedule 15 of PC6A gives information on the health of Otago’s rivers and lakes and describes their characteristics, contaminant limits and the targets for good quality surface water, as required by the Government’s National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management.

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