Communities key to setting policy

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Otago Regional Council chief executive Sarah Gardner talks about community-led involvement in setting water policies in the regional council’s first contribution to The News‘ Protecting our Water series.

Water is a top priority for the Otago Regional Council (ORC), our iwi partners and our communities. Increasingly our waterways face multiple demands for recreation, water supply, irrigation and for ecosystem health.

The Government’s National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management (NPSFM) recognises the management of freshwater needs to be done at a more local level that reflects Te Mana o te Wai (the integrated and holistic wellbeing of the water) and local catchment values and needs.

Shifting towards community value-setting and objective-setting for our waterways is a positive, and ensures a wide range of community voices are heard regarding local waterways.

ORC is embarking on a water plan review that will bring how we manage water in Otago into line with the NPSFM. This provides opportunities for community-focused engagement on both water quality and quantity.

A key requirement of the NPSFM is that the quality of our rivers, lakes and groundwater must be maintained or improved.

ORC needs our communities to embrace the opportunity to be involved in this process, so that we can develop the best policy for water management across Otago. This review doesn’t mean we need to discard all the policy we currently have, but we can test how it might achieve the values and objectives the community hold for their waterways and determine whether it is still fit for purpose or needs some updates.

ORC is working now to establish how the catchments of Otago will be grouped, so local engagement on those catchments can be targeted at a local scale. These groupings, called Freshwater Management Units (FMUs), are based on several factors, including iwi management units, the characteristics of waterways, current land-use, soil and vegetation types and hazard areas.

Once FMUs are established, ORC will work with communities to determine the values and objectives for those areas and this will inform future water policy setting.

Policy may include limits on the amount of water that can be taken from waterways and on the amount of pollution that can enter water.

ORC encourages all those with a view about water management in their local areas to start thinking about what is important to them in terms of how they value their local catchment.

Our water plan review will take some time, but if we set those foundations well, the policy we frame will serve us all.