Reports show why ORC must lead the way out of troubled waters

  • Otago
  • 11/03/2024
  • Bruce Quirey

Reports show why ORC must lead the way out of troubled waters

Otago Fish & Game is deeply concerned about the state of the region’s environment, with recently released Otago Regional Council reports suggesting many of its freshwater bodies are in serious trouble.

No less than five ORC-commissioned studies recently made public show the scale of water quality problems, Otago Fish & Game environmental officer Nigel Paragreen says.

“It’s important we have a clear understanding of the environmental challenges facing our region,” Mr Paragreen says.

“The ORC has done a great job in commissioning this work and making it public.

“Regardless of potential changes to the NPS-FM, we hope the region’s systemic water quality issues are front of mind for ORC councillors when deciding the next steps for the land and water plan.

“The RMA requires that the ORC sustainably manage water.”  

Many of the reports were developed to inform the development of the Land and Water Regional plan and were likely released to the public at the end of 2023.

They suggest that:

  • current nitrogen and phosphorus loads may need to be cut by up to 50%, or at times more than 70%, to achieve the national bottom line in parts of the Lower Clutha, Taieri, North Otago and some catchments along the Dunedin coast.

Nutrient Load Reduction Assessment

  • current coli loads in the same areas may need to be cut by up to 40%, or at times up to 80%, to meet a standard that is suitable for primary contact activities, like swimming or fishing.

E.coli Load Reduction Assessment

  • 70 per cent of estuary sites studied in Otago suffer from high or very high levels of eutrophication.

Proposed nutrient load limits for Otago estuaries

  • even significant agricultural practice change may be unlikely to achieve the suggested reductions in nitrogen and phosphorus in many of the most-affected areas. Land use change was found to be the most significant mitigation in many cases.

Options for improving water quality within Otago

  • 64% of State of Environment monitoring sites did not meet one or more national bottom lines, with the Lower Clutha, Roxburgh, North Otago, Manuherekia and Taieri performing particularly poorly.

State of Environment reporting

“While no modelling is perfect, these studies align with what people who spend time on the water have been saying for years,” Mr Paragreen says.

National bottom lines were set as minimum standards, below which all water bodies would be considered degraded.

They were based on advice from a national science and technical advisory group which recommended that bottom lines be set where the impacts on the health of aquatic ecosystems shift from moderate to severe.

The advisory group was clear that, in most cases, they considered that an ecosystem in good health would need to be some level above the national bottom lines.

“Failing to meet this basic minimum standard on such a wide scale shows a level of freshwater degradation that cannot be ignored,” Mr Paragreen says.

Otago Fish & Game congratulates ORC leadership for acknowledging the region’s water quality is not good enough, Mr Paragreen says.

ORC chair Gretchen Robertson is on record as saying whether it is urban stormwater and wastewater or farm and forestry management, change is a given. [ODT, August 7, 2023]

Fish & Game is also pleased deputy chair Lloyd McCall is confident changes made for the benefit of the environment recently will continue no matter what political landscape we are in. [ODT, March 4, 2024]

“We’re looking to the ORC to map out a pathway to restore our lakes, rivers, wetlands and estuaries.”

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