By Anna Bensemann, Senior Planner, Baseline Group, 03 578 7299, firstname.lastname@example.org
One of the key considerations in Resource Management Planning that is likely to directly affect the farming industry is planning provisions around climate change. The RMA requires us to consider the effects of climate change when creating new district and regional plans and when considering the effects of applications for resource consent.
The full effect of climate change is unclear with some suggesting that New Zealand’s South Island will have a dryer east coast including Marlborough and Canterbury but may have more intensive storms. Dryer soil conditions and changes in land use patterns creating increased soil compaction, particularly vineyards in Marlborough, may mean that there is accelerated surface runoff contributing to higher levels in our streams and rivers. The result of this could be flash flooding events or more extensive areas of flooding for short periods of time. This also means there may be less water available in our surface water systems during the remainder of the year for drinking water, stock water or irrigation purposes.
The South Island’s West Coast including Nelson and Tasman seems to be getting more rain leading to increased pressure on drainage systems in these areas. However, Tasman still appears to have a long term water shortage due to increased demand to take ground water for domestic, farming, and commercial use.
Planning for changes in climate trends are complicated at best. Councils need to be cautious of how much water they allocate to be used for farming and commercial use to ensure stock and domestic water supply is available and ensure we don’t impact on the natural aquatic life in the river systems. This is being done in a number of ways including maximum allocation limits for waterbodies and the promotion of water storage when there are high volumes of water available.
The other important planning consideration is how we manage our rivers. These systems may need to take larger volumes of water due to higher runoff where there are dryer ground conditions and more compacted soils such as vineyards. Where a stream doesn’t have the capacity to carry flood waters, farmers often want to either extract gravel or realign the systems to provide for greater carrying capacity. Gone are the days of just straightening up a river with the digger, now most waterway realignment resource consents require detailed river engineering details to ensure the downstream neighbour doesn’t inherit your problem. The effect of climate change combined with how farmland upstream of our towns and cities is managed also has the potential to impact on urban flooding, creating tension between urban and rural landowners.
Planning provisions are designed to protect people and communities from harm relating to natural hazards and need to respond to the effects of climate change. The challenge is fully understanding the effect of climate change in relation to how we use our land, and responding to that with amended planning provisions in a timely manner before we run out of water or discover new areas of unexpected flooding.