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NZRCA Submission on BOP Electricity Concession on Upper Kaituna Reserve

Submission compiled by Duncan Catanach, 27 March 2007

Background to the NZRCA

  • The NZRCA is the national representative organisation of canoe clubs and recreational kayakers throughout New Zealand. The NZRCA is an incorporated society and is affiliated to the NZ Canoe Federation, which is in turn affiliated to the International Canoe Federation. The NZRCA has delegated authority to represent the NZ Canoe Federation on conservation/access issues.
  • Previously the NZRCA was known as the New Zealand Canoe Association, prior to the creation of the New Zealand Canoe Federation in 1995/1996.
  • The NZRCA represents both individual members and affiliated member clubs. Currently there are approximately 30 member clubs affiliated to the NZRCA, 12 member organisations and a total of approximately 1000 individual members. The figure of 1000 in no way adequately represents the sum total of kayakers in New Zealand, as there are many who do not belong to clubs, and who have not joined the NZRCA as individuals.
  • Members of the executive of the NZRCA are volunteers.

Submission

We wish to make a submission on the decision by the Minister of Conservation to approve in principle a concession application by Bay of Plenty Electricity Limited to locate the abutment of a dam on the Upper Kaituna Scenic Reserve and to inundate part of that Reserve with water for the purpose of hydroelectricity generation.

We oppose the decision to grant a concession to Bay of Plenty Electricity Limited to locate the abutment of a dam on the Upper Kaituna Scenic Reserve and to inundate part of that Reserve with water.

We oppose the decision to grant a concession to Bay of Plenty Electricity Limited for the following reasons, or wish to make the following comments:

Kayakers and other whitewater enthusiasts are arguably amongst the best placed to make comment on any evaluation of the public enjoyment, natural and scenic values of the Reserve.

  • Recreational Kayakers have been using the Kaituna for more than 30 years. The upper gorge (from Okere Falls to Trout Pool Falls) is one of the most used pieces of whitewater in New Zealand. The lower gorges once considered unnavigable were run in a series of attempts starting in the late 1980's. Since the mid 1990's the river has been continuously kayaked and rafted from source to sea.
  • Two of the lower gorges, known by kayakers as Awesome Gorge and Gnarly Gorge, will be unacceptably affected by the proposed scheme. Both Awesome Gorge and Gnarly Gorge are described in Graham Charles' guidebook 'NZ Whitewater' and on the Kaituna River website (http://www.kaituna.com/4736/index.html).
  • The Awesome Gorge is primarily Grade 3 with one harder drop. Overall the grade is considered easier than the most commonly used (top) section of the Kaituna River (Okere Falls to Trout Pool Falls) and this section is paddleable by competent intermediate paddlers.
  • Use of the Awesome Gorge section has increased dramatically over the past five years as information (particularly identifying the crucial get-out prior to the entrance to the much more difficult Gnarly Gorge) has become more publicly available. A second issue which limits more frequent use is access as the most practical access back to Trout Pool (the get in for the lower gorges) is through private land. In short, while use is not as high as the section from Okere Falls to Trout Pool Falls, use can still be regarded as medium to high overall.
  • Gnarly Gorge is regarded as one of the most committing pieces of whitewater in New Zealand and is only paddled by expert paddlers after careful prior scouting of the Gorge for hazards such as trees. Although paddled only infrequently, this section of river has iconic status amongst the international paddling community and is valued extremely highly by kayakers (in a similar way climbers value iconic mountain peaks such as Mt. Everest even though they may be inaccessible to many). A video of a descent of Gnarly Gorge is available at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=80T9If8Frk8
  • Kayakers and other whitewater enthusiasts are probably the heaviest users of the lower Gorges. They are also likely to be the only constituents who have an intimate knowledge of the entire river margin of the area affected by proposed scheme. It stands to reason, therefore that the kayakers are arguably amongst those best placed to make comment on any evaluation of the public enjoyment, natural and scenic values of the Reserve.

We consider that the proposed scheme will have major impact on the natural and scenic values of the Reserve and the purpose for which the Reserve is held.

A significant part of the total amenity value of a river section for whitewater enthusiasts is the scenic value and natural beauty of the river environment in which they travel. The Kaituna River, particularly the Gorges below Trout Pool Falls are regarded by whitewater enthusiasts as unique in New Zealand - a natural wonderland.

We believe that the effect of the proposed scheme above the weir will have an unacceptable effect (i.e., defined as a serious adverse effect on the environment which cannot be remedied or mitigated on p6 of the Department of Conservation's Determination of 22 November 2006 - henceforth DD) on the natural and scenic values of the Upper Kaituna Scenic Reserve for the following reasons:

  • The weir will affect both the view of the Reserve from the river, and the view from the Reserve of the surroundings. Both scenic views will be negatively affected.
  • As outlined on p7 of the DD, the construction of the weir will result in a maximum water level increase of 7m at the weir. This will change the natural character of the Reserve's river margin as the river will change from a swiftly flowing, forceful, turbulent river with defined "drops" (i.e whitewater rapids) to a more sedate lake-like body.
  • We would agree with the DD's assessment (p22) that it is not possible to assess effects on the natural character of the margin of the river without considering, either the river itself as part of the landscape within which it is a focal feature, or the effects of the changes in the river hydrology on the characteristics of the land/water interface.
  • This change in natural character of the river margin cannot be mitigated or remedied against and the effect is permanent. Consequently, the effect of the proposed scheme can only be defined as unacceptable.

We would also argue that the assessment of landscape, natural character and scenic/visual amenity by Boffa Miskell (BM) dated 2 June 2005 and 1 February 2006) is flawed. It argues that the natural character will remain the same (p13, 2005) or be minor (p2, 2006) and that the effect on visual and scenic values (p14, 2005) and landscape will be minor (p1, 2006). We would argue that this analysis is flawed on a number of counts:

  • BM argue that the effect will be no more than minor as the natural components of water and steep-sided bush remain a major part of their experience. We would argue that for many members of the public, including whitewater enthusiasts, the dynamic characteristics of the water body (i.e., turbulent nature of the water) are also important. To graphically illustrate the point, it could be argued using BM's logic that raising the water level on the Aratiatia rapids on the Waikato River will not change the nature of the river margin substantively and thus there the effect is relatively minor. However, the public perception of the river margin is made up of the land itself and the river backdrop and it is doubtful whether this famous section of river would attract the number of visitors it does if the water was placid in nature i.e., the nature of the river margin is part of the natural character and scenic value of the environment. In short, we would agree with the DD (p14) which notes that this proposal does not promote the preservation of the natural character of the river margin.
  • One of the reasons that BM use to argue that the overall effect is minor is the limited accessibility of much of the gorge for the general public. We would argue that access is a red-herring as natural and landscape character is not dependent on numbers viewing but on the characteristics of the environment. Furthermore, there are many instances where features of great scenic and visual beauty are valued extremely highly even if the public cannot access them easily.
  • BM (p2, 2006) argues that although the change would initially be significant with removal of vegetation and inundation of the existing rocky character, the long term outcome...will result in minor overall effects. It appears that BM bases this argument on the idea that the public will eventually get used to a different environment - a slow, placid pool in a steep-side bush gorge. We would argue that the effect does not diminish over time - the unnaturalness of the river and the river margin will continue to be apparent over time, particularly when the natural character of the lower gorges is compared to the natural character of the Okere Falls to Trout Pool section.
  • BM appears not to have made any assessment of the effect on the natural and scenic values etc below the weir. Bay of Plenty Electricity have indicated that a low residual flow will be released below the weir. The NZRCA understands that the left bank of the Kaituna below the weir is still part of the Upper Kaituna Reserve but does not know whether the boundary is a fixed point or the river margin. In both cases, we would argue that the effect would be unacceptable. In the former case, the river will be narrower than currently due to dramatically lower flows and so the river margin will be outside the Reserve boundary and the natural character of the reserve has changed by definition. In the latter case, the nature of the river margin has substantially changed as the characteristics of the water body that forms part of the river margin are likely to have changed significantly.
  • BM appears to argue (p3, 2006) that the effects would be minor taking into account the length and character of the whole river corridor. We would argue that the effects of the proposed scheme are unacceptable along the whole corridor. We would also note that the Conservation Act does not take into account the proportion of the area that is affected, merely whether there is an effect.
  • Although flows on the Kaituna are controlled at Lake Rotoiti, current variations in flow do not substantially change the nature of the water dynamics on the Kaituna River i.e., at all current flows the natural character of the Kaituna River in the gorges is characterised by turbulent water with occasional discrete and significant drops. This cannot be said of the proposed scheme which will fundamentally change the nature of the hydrology above and below the weir and thus the natural character of the river margin of the Reserve.
  • Excepting the control gates mentioned above, the Kaituna River is one of the few significant North Island catchments where there has not been significant modification (e.g., hydro power or irrigation schemes). Additionally, due to the difficult topographical terrain of the lower Gorges, particularly Gnarly Gorge, these gorges are one of the few places anywhere where evidence of humans and pests is almost non-existent. Kayakers place particularly high value on such environments. Consequently, the NZRCA would argue that any significant modification, such as this scheme will dramatically affect the natural character of the Reserve.

We believe that granting a concession to Bay of Plenty Electricity contravenes the provisions of The Conservation Act i.e., the proposal is inconsistent with the statutory provisions for which the land is held.

  • S17U(3) provides that the decision maker does not have the lawful power to grant a concession if the proposed activity is contrary to the purpose for which the land is held. Section 19(1) and 19(2) are clear in their intent to retain and preserve the indigenous flora and fauna, ecological associations and natural environment and beauty. This provision would clearly be contravened if the concession is granted i.e., there is no legal basis for the approval of the concession.
  • S17U(2) provides that the Minister may decline any application if the Minister considers that there are no adequate or no reasonable methods for remedying, avoiding, or mitigating the adverse effects of the activity, structure or facility. As demonstrated above, there are no adequate or reasonable methods for remedying the unacceptable adverse effects of the activity.
  • Section 17W(3) provides that a concession should not be granted unless the concession and its granting are consistent with the appropriate Conservation Management Strategy (CMS). We would agree with the DD (pp 22-23) that the proposed scheme's effects are at least significant and thus inconsistent with the CMS and thus the concession should be declined.
  • As the DD notes (p12 and 14), social and economic reasons factors for building the dam are irrelevant, yet these have been put forward as reasons for the scheme by Bay of Plenty Electricity.

We consider that the proposed scheme will severely impact the public enjoyment and use of the Reserve.

  • The inundation of the reserve to create a slow flowing pool of water will by its very nature inhibit the enjoyment and use of the lower gorges by whitewater enthusiasts. As argued above, kayakers and whitewater enthusiasts value the river environment including the river margin, of the lower gorges extremely highly. There is no question, then, that the proposed scheme will severely impact the enjoyment and use of the Reserve by kayakers and whitewater enthusiasts. The views of the Reserve from the river will be significantly affected, as will the views from the Reserve. The proposal is clearly inconsistent with the purposes for which the conservation land is held.
  • Furthermore, as whitewater enthusiasts demonstrate, building a weir and inundating part of a Reserve is not necessary for the enjoyment of the Reserve's natural and scenic values.

We do not believe the mitigation measures proposed by Bay of Plenty Electricity will enhance the Reserve and surrounding areas.

  • As established previously, the NZRCA believes that there will be unacceptable effects on the Reserve from the proposed scheme which cannot be mitigated or remedied. Consequently, there will be no enhancement to the Reserve by the proposed mitigation measures.
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