Otago freshwater controls not fit for purpose – council lawyer

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No longer fit for purpose – that’s how the Otago Regional Council’s own lawyer has characterised the region’s freshwater controls.

New white-water rapids in the Clutha River created by downpours around Central Otago.

The Clutha River in Central Otago. Photo: RNZ / Ian Telfer

The comments came as the council opened its case in the Environment Court on the future of water rights in the region.

For the first time ever, the Environment Minister has called in proposed changes to how a regional council manages its resources.

Hundreds of historical water takes dating back to the goldfields remain in place in Otago.

When the Resource Management Act came into effect in October 1991, Otago was the outlier with those holding historical permits given 30 years until 1 October 2021 to change to resource consents.

With expiry only six months away, more than 330 remain in effect and more than 200 holders have not even applied for a replacement consent.

Plan Change 7 – which is being argued in the Environment Court – attempted to provide an interim framework for water rights in the region.

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Otago Regional Council lawyer Philip Maw told the court that framework would be in place until a more exhaustive freshwater management regime was announced at the end of 2023.

“Otago Regional Council is at a critical stage in its freshwater planning. The current freshwater planning framework in Otago is acknowledged as being no longer fit for purpose.

“It is a product of its time being prepared prior to the National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management 2020.

“A new NPSFM-compliant framework is required and the council is committed to having that framework in place by 31 December 2023.”

The danger of maintaining the status quo was water takes with extended periods would simply move the burden of addressing environmental concerns onto the next generation.

More than 50 parties are expected to make submissions to the court over the next seven weeks.

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