Management requires measurement

Significant water takes will have to be metered to enable better management of fresh water.

Environment Minister Nick Smith said:

“We can’t manage what we don’t measure,” Dr Smith said. “We know that over the past decade we have doubled the amount of water that can be legally taken from our rivers, lakes and aquifers to 450 million cubic metres per week. That is 18 Olympic-sized swimming pools every minute. We also know we are reaching resource limits in significant areas.  We need to know how much water is actually taken and when if we are to properly manage New Zealand’s hugely valuable freshwater resource.”

The Resource Management (Measurement and Reporting of Water Takes) Regulations 2010 take effect today and require all new water takes of more than 5 litres a second to be metered. Existing takes of more than 20 litres a second must be metered within two years (10 November 2012), those more than 10 litres a second must be metered with four years (10 November 2014) and all takes more than 5 litres a second within six years (10 November 2016).

“These regulations will hugely improve the information we have on water takes.  We currently measure only 31% of allocated water. These regulations will increase this to 92% in 2012, 96% in 2014 and 98% in 2016,” Dr Smith said.

This is sensible and already happens in many areas.

We take water from the North Otago Irrigation Scheme, which comes from the Waitaki River, underground and from the Kakanui River for irrigation and all of the takes are metered.

“These pragmatic regulations do not apply to small water takes less than 5 litres per second that make up 39% of consents but only 2% of the volume of water taken. Requiring small takes such as households and stock water to be metered could not be justified nationally.

“The Government is providing $90,000 to Irrigation New Zealand to develop guidance about water meters, verification and installation to irrigators so as to ensure the smooth implementation of these new regulations.  We also want irrigators to be well informed as to how to use this information to improve the efficiency of water use.

“These new regulations on water metering are part of a broader programme to improve New Zealand’s freshwater management.  This has included major investments in lake and river clean-ups, toughened penalties and stronger enforcement of resource consents, doubling funding for the New Zealand Landcare Trust, addressing Environment Canterbury’s problems and progressing the work of the Land and Water Forum. This Government recognises how important water will be to New Zealand’s future economic and environmental well being.”

Environment Canterbury and Irrigation New Zealand have welcomed the move.

NIWA’s lake water quality report was also released yesterday and the Minister gave it a could-do-better:

“This report concludes that New Zealand lake water quality compares favourably with Europe and North America but there are signs of real concern,” Dr Smith said. “It is unacceptable that 32% of our monitored lakes have poor water quality and that more lakes are deteriorating in water quality than are improving.

“Lake water quality is worst in low-land intensively farmed areas such as the Waikato and Manawatu.  The Government is ramping up spending on freshwater clean-up initiatives, from $17 million from 2003-2008 to $94 million from 2009-2014.  It is encouraging the lake showing the greatest improvement in water quality is Lake Rotoiti in the Bay of Plenty, proving the success of the Rotorua Lakes Water Quality initiative.”

Sixty-eight lakes had reliable data for the period 2005 to 2009 to enable trends in water quality to be measured.  Nineteen lakes showed deterioration and eight showed improvement.

“The deterioration in lake water quality was worst in Canterbury between 2005 and 2009, making up 15 of the 19 lakes nationwide that went backwards,” Dr Smith said.  “This reinforces the Government’s decision to intervene in water management in Canterbury, and the need to fast-track water plans and rules to better manage pollution.

“The data in this report is not comprehensive and has some gaps. More information is required on why the greatest deterioration in water quality has occurred in catchments with more native than pastoral land cover. The data is also limited to 112 out of 4000 New Zealand lakes, although I am encouraged that the number of lakes being monitored has trebled since 2000.

Federated Farmers welcomed the report as a vindication, albeit grudging, of the work farmers have done to improve water quality in the past decade.

“Turning water quality around is no different from a supertanker.  It takes time but we’re now seeing some positive indicators,” says Lachlan McKenzie, Federated Farmers Dairy chairperson.

“Over the past decade, we’ve invested massively in effluent management systems and other on-farm improvements.  There’s been a hell of a lot of great work done on-farm and in the industry which goes completely unreported. . .

. . . “This NIWA report raises important questions and we must answer those. . .

. . . “Interpreting these results must be lake specific with multiple factors at play. LakeSPI, for one, is influenced heavily by exotic aquatic plants and fish, which aren’t cows.

“But are farmers denying any impact of agriculture on lake water quality? Of course we’re not.  That’s why we’ve made a massive investment over the past decade and why we’re open to public scrutiny.

“But we cannot be expected to make all the improvements when agriculture is far from all of the problem.

“I, for one, would dearly love to know what’s causing the decline in 40 percent of lakes with ‘dominant native catchment cover’.

“Could it be introduced water fowl, koi carp, aquatic plants and trout perhaps?  NIWA has instead strayed into ‘gosh, it must be farming’, instead of staying science informed. . .

There are many causes for declining water quality. Indentifying them and finding solutions must be based on science and requires the co-operation of land owners, visitors, water users and relevant agencies.

3 Responses to Management requires measurement

  1. gravedodger says:

    Who will measure the water takes for the Hydro generators or do we assume they return most of their take to the river. If so who then will measure the water that irrigators take that will return via runoff and to the acquifiers, and then there is my potential take of 20 liters per minute for horticulture, stock and domestic, from a tributary of the Aylmers Stream.
    Well intentioned but the potential for inaccuracy is significant and IMO likely to be of little use in the grand scheme.

  2. robertguyton says:

    ‘You can manage what you can’t measure’
    Let me rephrase that Ele.
    You can’t control what you don’t measure.
    Can you see any difference?
    It’s a Left/Right split.

  3. homepaddock says:

    You’d be happy with uncontrolled takes?

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