CHB farmers who do not have their farm environment management plans (FEMP) completed in time face paying thousands in resource consent costs, and potential fines of up to $300,000 from the Hawke's Bay Regional Council.
And with the regional council warning it intends to take a hard line against farmers who do not comply by the May 31 deadline, Federated Farmers Hawke's Bay president Will Foley is urging farmers in the Tukituki catchment not to wait to start work on their farm plans.
Any property owner who owns 10 or more hectares in the Tukituki catchment needs a FEMP in place by May 31 under Tukituki Plan Change 6 (PC6), which will also introduce new minimum flow requirements for the Tukituki River mid this year.
Some people who own between four and 10ha will also need a FEMP, unless they are considered a low-intensity operation.
Latest figures from the regional council show just 271 FEMPs, covering 37 per cent of the catchment area, have been completed, with another 30 at various stages of completion. The regional council says up to 600 or 700 additional farms could need a FEMP, with only 15 approved FEMP providers available to assist them.
After May 31, the regional council says farmers without a FEMP will need to spend between $1000 to $2000 to apply for a resource consent to continue farming — which will require they complete a FEMP anyway — or face enforcement action and fines of up to $300,000. A HBRC spokesman warned that the council intended to come down hard on farmers who did not have a FEMP.
"Our intention is to take a hard line against non-compliance but the details of our approach are not available as yet."
Despite only 24 per cent of the required number of FEMPs lodged to date, Federated Farmers Hawke's Bay president Will Foley said he had no concerns about the effectiveness of the regional council's communication strategy with farmers.
"But it seems as though farmers are not understanding the certainty that they need one. There has been much confusion around Ruataniwha Dam linked with PC6. Anyone outside of Ruataniwha footprint — or even within it, now the dam's not going ahead — perhaps still thinks this doesn't concern them."
While the penalties for non-compliance and the regulations under PC6 "might seem harsh", Mr Foley said the regional council had a duty to ensure they were carried out.
He was confident the threat of enforcement action would ensure a "late rush" of farmers lodging their FEMPS, but the worst-case scenario of farmers having to apply for resource consent to continue their livelihoods or being fined was "definitely … a possibility".
"Resources within the [regional council] and the number of providers are limited, so my advice would be to not wait until tomorrow but start today," he said.
Other new requirements under PC6 included new minimum flow requirements for the Tukituki River, which will potentially result in water restrictions for land users.
Mr Foley said he was aware of many farmers who had signed up to the dam, who were now in process of finding a solution to water supply for themselves.
That was confirmed by a regional council spokesman who said that, of the 19 water take consents issued for water storage in the Tukituki catchment, five consents have been issued in the past year.
Another five consents had been lodged and were currently being processed, the spokesman said.
$50k for CHB water users
Meanwhile, the regional council is considering contributing $50,000 to a group of CHB water users who fear the new minimum flow conditions under PC6 will leave their businesses "struggling to survive".
After twice agreeing PC6 needed to progress as planned, the council agreed to support an approach taken by the CHB surface water group to find solutions to access water within the PC6 framework. Group representative Alastair Haliburton had asked for the council's financial support, as they had engaged Aqualinc, a water sector environmental consultancy, to develop a proposal for a "collective community plan".
The plan would help surface water consent holders meet the new requirements, and was expected to be more cost effective, and better for the environment than every affected user coming up with their own plan.
At a regional council meeting earlier this month council chief executive James Palmer said that after reviewing the proposal, the council was finalising discussions about offering the group $50,000 for the $65,000 project.
Council wanted to the remaining $15,000 be funded by the group, or with help from other organisations.
Mr Palmer said there was some disappointment the council would not fund it entirely, but this was an unbudgeted item.
"It doesn't seem unreasonable for me if these are multimillion-dollar enterprises that have hundreds of thousands of dollars at risk from the minimum flows that they can find $15,000 between themselves," he said.
Mr Haliburton said the group was trying under urgency to complete funding so it could make a start on the project.
"Time is of the essence, because from the outset we've had to progress this with urgency."
The group understood Aqualinc would be ready to start when the funding was available.