Kayakers aghast at hydro approval for wild and pristine river

Release date: 
Thursday, October 13, 2016 - 00:00

Whitewater NZ is dismayed and perplexed the Department of Conservation (DOC) is proposing to grant Westpower a concession for a hydro scheme on the South Island's wild and pristine Waitaha River.

Whitewater NZ is the national kayaking organisation, representing kayakers throughout the country.

The organisation's Conservation Officer, Doug Rankin, says they are aghast at the proposal to develop the Waitaha, which is in a remote area west of the Southern Alps.

"This decision defies logic, given the outstanding natural landscape and kayaking values in the Waitaha catchment", says Doug Rankin.

"The Waitaha contains a number of outstanding high Class white water runs, including the run down the Morgan Gorge, which is where Westpower plan to place the hydro scheme. If the proposed scheme were to go ahead, the run would be de-watered and kayaking down the Morgan Gorge would no longer be possible," Dr Rankin says.

"This would be a big loss to kayakers. The Morgan is a spectacular schist gorge, with fluted water-smoothed rock walls and a white water path down through huge boulders. It provides a supreme Class V challenge for expert kayakers with the skill and nerve to venture into it", says Dr Rankin.

The Morgan Gorge would not be the only loss.

"The classic Waitaha Gorge run, along with the lower reach below the Morgan Gorge, would all be affected, with a further 1.5km class IV-III-II river reach being dewatered. The Waitaha's catchment wilderness values would also be lost from the dewatering and intrusion of industrial structures," Dr Rankin says.

Mick Hopkinson, Director of the New Zealand Kayak School based in Murchison, says the news is devastating.

He says the Morgan Gorge is irreplaceable.

"There is no other gorge like the Morgan Gorge in New Zealand. It is not only pristine wilderness, but because of its outstanding recreation values, it is especially valuable for kayakers, both nationally and internationally," Mr Hopkinson says.

Mick Hopkinson questions why hydro development is being allowed on the Waitaha.

"Hydro development of such a resource is incompatible with its status as an outstanding natural feature. Under DOC's own strategy and the district plans, it requires protection", says Mr Hopkinson.

The President of Whitewater NZ, Nigel Parry, says that under the Conservation Act 1987, the clear intention in creating stewardship areas was to protect them from development or extractive use until their conservation value could be established.

"It is mind boggling that DOC is willing to irreversibly sacrifice this special place when there are alternatives such as the consented but unbuilt Arnold and Stockton schemes in heavily modified environments," Mr Parry says.

"If a magnificent and wild place like the Waitaha isn't safe from bulldozers and industrial development, what is?"

"Given that these and other outstanding recreation and conservation values exist in the catchment, and that the power is not needed, it is difficult to understand what logic and process DOC has used to reach its stated position," says Mr Parry.

Whitewater NZ is calling on members of the public concerned about this intention to grant the concession to make a submission to DOC via their web site. Submissions close on 14 November 2016.

For further information contact:

Nigel Parry, President, Whitewater NZ, 027 268 4912
Doug Rankin, Conservation Officer, Whitewater NZ, 027 843 4447
Justin Venable, Experienced West Coast kayaker, 021 122 1019

About Whitewater NZ
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. More information on: rivers.org.nz.