Water Conservation Orders

Describes existing National Water Conservation Orders and Water Conservation Orders. For example Motu, Karamea and Clarence. This article by Geoff Price (Whitewater Canoe Club) was originally published in NZ Canoeing 98.2 (Winter 1998), and updated by Jonathan Hunt.

A national strategy for Water Conservation Orders is being formulated, to protect rivers that are of greatest importance to kayakers. The first stage is to compile a list of granted Water Conservation Orders, to show what is currently protected.

Water Conservation Orders exist in two forms: National Water Conservation Orders granted under section 20D of the former Water and Soil Conservation Act 1967, and Water Conservation Orders granted under section 214 of the Resource Management Act 1991. The following table shows a complete list of granted Water Conservation Orders, plus pending applications:

National Water Conservation Orders (Pre-RMA)

River Status Reference
Motu River Granted 7 February 1984 1984/20
Rakaia River Granted 10 October 1988 1988/241
Lake Wairarapa Granted 6 March 1989 1989/51
Manganuiateao River Granted 6 March 1989 1989/52
Lake Ellesmere Granted 2 July 1990 1990/155
Ahuriri River Granted 2 July 1990 1990/156
Grey River Granted 22 July 1991 1991/133

Water Conservation Orders

Rangitikei River Granted 15 February 1993 1993/15
Kawarau River Granted 17 March 1997 1997/38
Mataura River Granted 7 July 1997 1997/126
Buller River Granted 18 June 2001, following Planning Tribunal Decision C32/96. Variation sought. 2001/139
Motueka / Riwaka Rivers Granted 23 August 2004 2004/258
Mohaka River Granted 15 November 2004, following Planning Tribunal Decision W20/92 2004/397
Whanganui River Pending Waitangi Tribunal application
Rangitata River WCO Recommended by Planning Tribunal and Environment Court (6 Aug 2004). Pending application

In the case of the Buller, the WCO took 14 years. A Tribunal hearing was held in 1995, and the Tribunal's report was released 31 May 1996. The Tribunal judge was not satisfied that there was sufficient evidence to support a WCO over some waters, despite four weeks of hearings. The Tribunal's report was not conclusive, and left it to the Minister (Simon Upton) to decide. The Minister left it to the parties to provide sufficient evidence to justify the inclusion of doubtful waters, and only those that were not contested. A Water Conservation Order has been granted (18 June 2001) and is in effect from 21 July 2001. More background on the Buller WCO is in Buller Water Conservation Order, 2001.

The status of the applications deserves comment:

Whanganui River
The application for a WCO has been delayed due to a Treaty of Waitangi claim, and is on hold pending a Waitangi Tribunal decision.

Rangitata River
The application for a WCO by Fish & Game is being heard by a Special Tribunal. See Rangitata Water Conservation Order.

The second stage is to identify rivers that are of national importance from the NZRCA River Survey data. A list of the top twenty rivers has been compiled by Jonathan Hunt from the River Survey database. The River Survey was undertaken in 1991/3, so the data is old. There are other rivers not in this list that have increased in importance, and may well deserve a top 20 ranking now. The following table shows a list of the current top 20 rivers, ranked in order of their importance (score out of 5), with comments on their conservation status:

Twenty most important rivers and their conservation status

Rank River Importance Status
1 Motu 4.85 WCO 1984/20
2 Karamea 4.58 Within Kahurangi National Park
3 Landsborough 4.57 Within Hooker / Landsborough Wilderness Area or Cook River to Haast River Conservation Area
4 Mohaka 4.54 WCO 2004/397
5 Kawarau 4.43 WCO 1997/38
6 Shotover 4.43 Part of WCO 1997/38
7 Buller 4.41 WCO 2001/139
8 Rangitikei 4.30 WCO 1993/15
9 Clarence 4.26 No protection
10 Taieri 4.25 No protection
11 Whakapapa 4.24 No protection
12 Hollyford 4.21 Within Fiordland National Park
13 Tongariro 4.18 No protection
14 Wairoa 4.17 No protection
15 Rangitaiki 4.15 No protection
16 Ngaruroro 4.11 No protection
17 Grey 4.09 WCO 1991/133
18 Rangitata 4.08 WCO Recommended by Planning Tribunal and Environment Court (6 Aug 2004). Pending
19 Waikato 4.07 No protection
20 Hurunui 3.93 No protection

The top eight rivers all have protection under Water Conservation Orders, or by being within national parks. Although, it should be noted that the Buller River WCO has not been granted, and some effort is required to resolve outstanding issues and to have this granted as soon as possible. Granted in June 2001.

Effort will now be focused on those rivers that rank high in importance, but are not protected by Water Conservation Orders or by other means. The river survey data shows that the Clarence River is clearly of top priority, followed by the Taieri and Whakapapa Rivers.

The Clarence River is of national importance, and is currently threatened by a possible hydro dam. Marlborough Electric have confirmed that investigations are being undertaken on generating hydro-electric power from the Clarence, but advise that these are at a preliminary stage. They have already purchased land in the area. The Clarence River warrants a Water Conservation Order to protect it, and an application needs to be made soon.

Since this article was written, the TranzRail have applied for resource consents to quarry the lower Clarence for the proposed ferry terminal at Clifford Bay. The NZRCA has responded, and an example submission against the TranzRail consent is here.

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