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It's been a while...

Updated: Aug 7, 2023

Big workload, rapid progress

Under Gretchen Robertson's leadership, now joined by newly appointed CE - Richard Saunders - it feels like the huge and sluggish ship that was ORC is turning and picking up speed. The workload has been phenomenal. So many demands from government, new staff, more boots on the ground, genuine partnership with mana whenua, more decisions.... The piece that didn't get done was this blog and yet it's so important for me to keep the communication flowing.

Chewy hui 28 June

Richard Saunders is now in place as our CE and his first report is extremely useful for getting a good overview of what’s going on at the council. In this you’ll find key things like, when the Manuherekia flow will be set (the TAG report will finally be presented to our August meeting) and when we might expect to see the Land and Water Economic profile of Otago, the status of a Māori economy report and many others. So, for a brief overview check out the CEs report starting on page 270 of the agenda. You’ll also find a plan on how we’ll go about the Long Term Plan process. The plan’s important, it will provide the guide rails for our activities and funding over the years 2024 – 3034.

Land and water plan and Regional Policy Statement direction

There’s a lot of detail about the direction in the report on page 44 of the Council Meeting agenda . You can see in this paper that our staff team still need guidance on things like, how to phase out over-allocation. As noted, voluntary reduction of actual water use (not paper allocation, or unused allocation) hasn’t worked. So other tools and methods have to be considered. This will be a longer and more complicated process than most of us would like as we work through who gets less water and how much less – a prioritisation process which needs careful attention. You’ll note too complementary methods including possible financial support and promoting good land use/management. There’s also approaches suggested for managing Lake water takes – these currently have no standard mechanisms.

Key observations around water quality of specific areas (defined by the Fresh Water Management units) are informative and in some cases concerning. Check out the table starting at page 95.

Bus and ferry fare changes

On 1 July the concessions changed with some people travelling free, some at half price and others paying more than they have been for the past wee while. Also Waka Kotahi has removed its 50% fare subisdy which means for our buses the most usual fare goes from $1 to $2. Unfortunately the new concessions will not apply to the Queenstown Ferries – this needs separate consideration and decisions on making the trial permanent – or not. And a doubling of the fare price takes a one way trip from $5 to $10 which is a serious increase for Kelvin Peninsula commuters. Our transport team are working to take the Queenstown Ferries from a trial situation to a permanent contract. More about that in this story. Complicating the issue, Real Journeys has decided to sell the ferry business.

Electoral review

And are we up for changing our electoral system for the regional council? Should we have a Single Transferable Vote system where you can rank candidates? Dunedin City already has this system, but our other local authorities are on First Past the Post. You can read about it on page 221 of the agenda. On the day, we voted to put off the decision until August rather than lose any opportunity to really consider the STV system which I note has been recommended for all councils in the report from The Future of Local Government Review. If you want to know more about the two voting systems, here's an explainer.

Knowledge is power - 29 June

A good chunk of your recent rate rises went to increase our knowledge of several aspects of our environment and several reports delivered at the Environmental and Science Policy Committee were the result of that spend. Much of this information will feed into the Land and Water Plan.

You can find the following reports (and others) here.

Otago Lakes Management approach:

This one is dear to my heart and I was delighted to see it signed off. This approach should finally give Otago’s 3 great alpine lakes the attention they need. An extensive Landpro report scoping an approach to improving the environmental values of Otago’s lakes resulted in 43 recommendations. These and four other actions were approved along with analysis and time frames. You'll find the report, the recommendations and the plan from page 353 of the agenda. We now need to make sure there is always adequate funding for this work.

Estuary studies:

There are now baseline reports for Otago’s estuaries representing two years of work and monitoring. You can see the state of each one in the agenda reports.

The main stressors for estuaries are sediment and nutrients. Those in the poorest condition are Catlins and Pleasant River.

Vulnerable Ecosytems:

This study is already resulting in action in partnership with communities. All are interesting and wonderful, but one type – inland saline, or salt pans – are found only in Otago and are a ‘critically endangered’ ecosystem type. They’ve been reduced to around .25% of their 1960s spread.

The main causes of degradation are landuse change resulting in weeds that smother vulnerable turf ecosystems.

Water Quality State and Trends:

ORC monitors 107 river sites and eight lakes for surface water quality across the region. This report goes through the states and trends of those sites. In general, as you would expect, the best quality water is towards the head waters and water degrades further downstream. You can check out the waterways near you – existing state, 10 and 20 year trends - in this report.

Funding - Jobs for Nature? Public Transport? Environmental improvement?

Southern Lakes Sanctuary from Google Maps

Jobs for Nature funding:

This is coming to an end and there is huge concern about the very real potential of losing the forward motion towards improving biodiversity, water quality and all the other environmental work. How do we find the money needed for organisations such as Southern Lakes Sanctuary, Mana Tahuna, and Wai Wānaka (to name a few in our region) to continue their work, protect the institutional knowledge they’ve built, maintain the teams they've built and protect the gains they've established? Not to mention the relationships and partnerships that have been built along the way. We need to think about this collectively. Can we base an economy in restoration? Could there be some sort of equivalent emissions trading scheme (ETS) for biodiversity? How do we feel about funding through rates? As always, your views are more than welcomed.

Public Transport/transport network in Queenstown

Our winter road clog seems worse than ever and improvements to the Public Transport (PT) system isn't keeping pace with the huge bounce back of tourism numbers and ongoing growth in general. Improvements to the highway network as part of the NZUP programme - which includes programmes to optimise PT and other transport is painfully slow. The BP roundabout is it the lynchpin of the entire improvement plan, but work won't start until 2024 and likely won't finish until 2027. Other work will take place after that. In the meantime, Queenstown Airport is working on 3.2% growth a year which will add that many more people and cars into the mix.

There is much more to discuss. But tomorrow is a public holiday and this needs to get OUT before our next round of meetings in the last week of July. We need to discuss rates and our system of rating and financing the work we want done. More about that soon. In the meantime:

Mānawatia a Matariki

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