Competition for Water

Hugh Canard argues that demand for water to fuel economic growth will place pressure on remaining whitewater resources. Kayakers should expect increasing applications for resource consents for irrigation and power. Paddlers should keep a logbook to provide evidence of use. This article appeared in NZ Canoeing 02.3, Spring 2002.

The New Zealand government is embarking on a growth strategy designed to get the country into the top half of the OECD countries income levels. The thinking goes like this: We have been lagging behind our neighbours and those countries we fondly imagine to be our peers. Collectively we have been financing a high standard of living on a developing-world income for a number of years. More economic activity and more jobs, especially those industries that are globally competitive and which will provide higher paying jobs. To deliver the much needed health and education improvements we need, requires more income.

More economic activity usually means more energy and resource consumption, although it does not necessarily have to be that way. It is sometimes possible to get more from less. So what? Does this affect you? Oh yes. Water is one of our increasingly valuable and fought-over resources.

Especially water containing that magic ingredient, gravity. Hydro generation schemes are being dusted off all over New Zealand, and there are literally dozens of irrigation schemes in various stages of advancement. Irrigation is capable of delivering some substantial economic gains to rural regions, hence the increased interest. A less obvious threat to in-stream recreation is the decline in water quality due to more intensive agriculture, with dairying being a prime suspect. Even those rivers we value highly and have fought hard and long for, like the Buller, have their National Water Conservation Orders being challenged. It is inevitable that a river with volume and gradient will attract attention from developers. The nearer to a centre of economic activity, the greater the likelihood that the figures will stack up. So, your cherished local run is in the frame.

The last few years have been a period of consolidation for the NZRCA. There have been no major dams proposed - or at least not by people with the wherewithal to actually get the consents and build them. There has been plenty going on, but the present crop of projects does not have the push that a few blackouts in major cities and industries can create. Irrigation schemes usually divert water from rivers, leaving 'residual' flows, and we all know that residual flows are not as much fun as natural flows.

Where does this leave us? First, brace yourself. Expect a new round of applications and schemes on major and minor rivers. Take some comfort that we have rights under the Resource Management Act and "effects have to be mitigated". To have the effects on our sport "mitigated" we paddlers need to present our case well, and base it on hard data. It will not carry the day to turn up at a hearing or spam some government officials with emotional pleas, however true we know these views to be. Given that some schemes will proceed, we need to ensure that our voices are heard.

The most effective conservation tool is very simple - a logbook. They are made of paper and are cheap, portable and do not require high bandwidth. Record every trip, date, how many paddlers, the flow, and how the experience was for you. It will impress your grandchildren (yeah, right), but more importantly, it will impress tribunal members and officials, who seek facts and numbers and dates. Even a spreadsheet on your PC that you update on a Sunday evening is a logbook. When a river comes up on the radar, whoever is on the NZRCA case will be looking for numbers and dates and this is where personal logbooks are so useful.

A small thing to us can have an unforeseen effect on a lay person. At a hearing on the Kawarau the judge interrupted a paddler in the middle of his evidence, "Do you mean that you actually have names for all these rapids?"

We know that, but the judge had no idea, and in his mind this was evidence that we really did care about the river and the experiences we had. The collective efforts of those paddlers over many years has meant that we are listened to, and that our views are given some weight when the hearings are held. You owe it to your fellow paddlers to participate. Some people are capable of writing long submissions with legal arguments - just as well. But all of us can contribute the price of a few beers and a bit of time and not leave it to 'someone else.'

If you really want to impress your grandchildren you can tell them how you once personally helped save a river. All you have to do is support the people in the NZRCA. And get a logbook, and fill it in.