New legislation weakens Water Conservation Orders and paves the way for dams on the Hurunui River

Release date: 
Wednesday, March 31, 2010 - 00:00
The third reading of the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and improved Water Management) Bill passed under urgency in Parliament tonight will have dramatic and serious consequences for Canterbury rivers. The move by the Government to hijack the proposed Water Conservation Order for the Hurunui River amounts to destroying Canterbury’s only remaining undammed lake – Lake Sumner – and the Hurunui River. The weakening of the protection provided by Water Conservation Orders in Canterbury in this Bill is supposedly "to ensure a consistent approach to water issues in Canterbury." However, the purpose of Water Conservation Orders is to provide legislative protection similar to National Parks for rivers of outstanding national significance. Nick Smith's stated goal of 'rapidly' addressing perceived problems with the Resource Management Act will not be served either. The Hurunui River Water Conservation Order has already been recommended by a Special Tribunal appointed by the Minister, after considering submissions by hundreds of Cantabrians. It has been appealed by irrigators, but the hearing in the Environment Court was due to start in May, after which the final decision on the Water Conservation Order would be made. The practical effect of the Government's move is to sweep all of that effort… several years and several hundreds of thousands of dollars worth… off the table and replace it with an entirely new process which will have to start from scratch including an entirely new public consultation round. It will take longer, at further cost, and there will be very limited grounds for appeal on points of law only if the new untried process gets it wrong. This means that suspect evidence and testimony can never be challenged or tested. Whitewater NZ have been engaging responsibly with Water Conservation Orders since the Motu River in 1981 at enormous personal cost to our volunteer members. Water Conservation Orders are the result of a very robust and carefully negotiated statutory process. There is no evidence that Water Conservation Orders have ever created insurmountable issues for water projects, and they have always been open to variation through a statutory process. Water Conservation Orders allow water to be used for economic purposes, but also provide protection for our outstanding rivers that are too precious to destroy. Whitewater NZ works to protect and conserve rivers, improve opportunities for kayakers to enjoy our whitewater resources safely, and protect public access to rivers for recreational use. We are the primary advocate for the preservation and protection of whitewater resources throughout New Zealand. END For more information contact: Polly Miller President Whitewater NZ president@rivers.org.nz 021 027 58661 Tony Ward-Holmes Conservation Officer Whitewater NZ conservation@rivers.org.nz 027 4866 994