In October 2018, ORC formally approved the need for a full review of the Water Plan to satisfy the plan review requirements under section 79 of the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA), give full effect to the National Policy Statement: Freshwater Management, and to take a more localised approach to water and land management, based on Freshwater Management Units (FMUs).

While the full review is undertaken, ORC has committed to:

  • Developing a Water Permits Plan Change to bridge the gap between the expiry of deemed permits in Otago in 2021, and when a new Regional Policy Statement and Land and Water Plan for Otago will be operative.
  • Continue developing plan changes for water management in the Arrow, Cardrona and Manuherekia catchments
  • Strengthen water quality provisions in the current Water Plan through two plan changes: Plan Change 6AA and the Water Quality Plan Changes.

Click here for a Water Plan review timeline.

Water Permits Plan Change

To bridge the gap between the expiry of water permits in Otago in 2021, and when a new Regional Policy Statement and Land and Water Plan for Otago will be operative, an interim change to ORC’s water plan was recommended by Minister for the Environment David Parker. 

ORC passed a resolution to do a Water Permits plan change in early December 2019. The short-term policy framework is planned around principles that include:

  • The focus must remain on the bigger picture – the Water Plan review.
  • The Water Permit plan change should be as concise as required to achieve a fit for purpose management regime.
  • Water allocation should be based on water use, not paper allocation.
  • Consideration of potential impacts on existing water abstractors, and existing priorities in deemed permits.
  • Efficiency of time and cost for both ORC, applicants and other parties.
  • Opportunities for data gathering that will inform the Water Plan review should also be pursued.

While the long-term focus of water management for Otago will be on reviewing the Regional Policy Statement and the Land and Water Regional Plan, ORC is interested in understanding community expectations and views about the interim policy the Water Permit plan change will include.

A council meeting was held on 7 January 2020 to enable a Public Forum to provide an opportunity for members of the public to speak to the Council on possible content of a bespoke Water Permits Plan Change.

The proposed plan change was notified on 18 March 2020, and submissions closed on 4 May 2020. Read more about the proposed plan change here.


Arrow, Cardrona and Manuherekia plan changes

With Freshwater Management Units (FMUs) set for Otago, the next focus for each FMU and rohe (a sub-area within an FMU) community will be to meet and agree on local values that sit alongside national values for human and ecological health. These will inform objectives and water quality and quantity limits for each area, which will become a "chapter" of the new water plan. ORC will facilitate this process in each FMU and rohe to ensure a tailored approach to water management for each FMU and rohe.

There will be a staged approach to FMU and rohe value and objective setting, which will essentially begin the path towards undertaking a full water plan review. Each rohe or FMU will be a “chapter” of the new water plan. 

The Cardrona and Arrow catchments form a large part of the Dunstan Rohe, and were the first communities to be consulted about their values for the new framework because of the work they had already started with ORC to set minimum flows for these rivers. You can read the results of the consultation for Cardrona and Arrow here. The Manuherekia Rohe community has also recently completed a values consultation and this is currently being analysed by the ORC Policy Team.

The next steps for these three areas will be the development of a range of water management scenarios for the community to comment on. 

Water quality plan changes

While the full Water Plan review is undertaken, ORC will continue to implement the operative Water Plan.

ORC is preparing two proposed plan changes (Plan Change 6AA and the Water Quality Plan Changes (formerly "Omnibus") to strengthen and align water quality management to meet central government expectations and policy, to ensure that the Water Plan still delivers an effective and efficient water management framework, and that its implementation supports (and does not undermine) the full plan review.

In 2014, ORC brought in new Water Plan rules specifically to manage the effects of rural activities, including farming, on water quality protect rural water quality, know as ('Plan Change 6A').

Those rules solely focus on the effects of land use on water quality, and do not prescribe land use management practices. In particular, they set discharge contaminant concentration thresholds and nitrogen leaching limits which are to take effect from 1 April 2020.

This section of the Water Plan is an effects-based, permitted activity approach to managing water contaminants with minor effects on the quality of a river, lake, wetland or aquifer. Gross discharges and objectionable activities that degrade water quality are prohibited.

Plan change 6AA

In early October 2019, we notified a plan change (known as plan change 6AA) to extend the 1 April 2020 deadline for contaminant thresholds and nitrogen leaching limits. This change will allow time to develop more robust water quality rules and prepares the ground for subsequent changes. Following notification and the submissions process, no appeals were received, so Councillors agreed to make this plan change operative from 19 May 2020. Read more about this plan change and the next steps here.

Water Quality Plan Changes (formerly "Omnibus")

These proposed plan changes to the Regional Plan: Water and the Regional Plan: Waste would align ORC's water quality regulations with central government expectations and policy. This plan changes would strengthen or add provisions on the following topics:

  • Sediment run-off from new subdivisions or developments
  • Farm effluent management
  • Discharge of waste oil on roads
  • Requiring/facilitating good management practices
  • Clear discharge policy framework (urban and rural)
  • Definition of 'regionally important infrastructure

These plan changes, along with the Water Permits Plan Change, have been "called in" by the Minister for the Environment at ORC's request due to the need for them to be completed in a timely manner. This means that the Environment Protection Authority will take over the process of notification and submissions. Read more about what this means here.

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The majority of the rules in the current water plan are helping to protect Otago's waterways. However, rules such as contaminant concentration thresholds or nitrogen leaching limits have created uncertainties which will affect their implementation. This may incentivise land owners to make consent applications, which are likely to be costly and time consuming, and which could get in the way of implementing more effective water quality rules.

The rest of the rules relating to 6A that have been in place since 2014 are robust and fit for purpose in the short term but will be part of considerations while ORC undertakes its water plan review.

Since Plan Change 6A was notified in 2014, national water regulation and expectations have changed. ORC must align to those new requirements and expectations.

We expect that the resulting uncertainty for land owners may incentivise them to make consent applications, which are likely to be costly and time consuming, and which could get in the way of implementing more effective water quality rules.

Providing Plan Change 6AA is adopted on time, farmers will not need to apply for consents if they cannot meet the requirements of 6A that commence on 1 April 2020.

Please contact the ORC Consents Team before lodging a consent application for the breach of discharge contaminant concentration thresholds and Overseer nitrogen leaching limits.

However, you still need to:

  • Collect OVERSEER data for your property
  • Have controls in place to stop sediment (soil) or gross contaminant discharges from entering waterways.

We know that many rural land users are following good practice when it comes to water quality, such as keeping stock out of waterways, providing buffer zones alongside waterways and planting riparian edges. We encourage land users to maintain and build on those good management practices. Read more good management practices here.

Any central government policy changes, such as new or amended National Policy Statements or National Environmental Standards, will be taken into account in our regional plans during this process.

ORC recognises that urban water quality is also an issue in some places. One of the changes proposed to strengthen ORC’s water quality framework will introduce stricter rules around sediment run-off and disturbance on building sites and new developments, such as housing areas or industrial parks. We cannot ignore the increasing pressure such developments are putting on waterways as a result of sediment discharges.

The Ministry for the Environment has signalled that there may be changes to rules around urban stormwater and sediment runoff coming soon.