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Government torpedoes own flagship water reform group
Five leading environmental and outdoor recreation groups said today that the Government legislation on water conservation orders passed yesterday under urgency has sent a torpedo into the Government-backed national forum working on water management reform.
The groups said the Government’s legislation to replace Environment Canterbury includes provisions that reduce the statutory protection of iconic rivers, opening them up for dams and irrigation use.
The water bodies immediately affected are the Rakaia, Rangitata and Ahuriri Rivers and Lakes Coleridge and Ellesmere, along with the application for protection of the Hurunui River, which was awaiting a hearing in the Environment Court.
The five groups said this change was pushed through parliament without any warning or consultation with the Land and Water Forum, which the Government set up last year to work on water management reforms that would be good for the economy and the environment.
“The Land and Water Forum has been the best environmental and governance initiative of this Government to date, but that is now in jeopardy following this major breach of trust from the Government,” Environmental Defence Society (EDS) chair Gary Taylor said.
The five groups – EDS, Ecologic, Fish & Game, Whitewater NZ and Forest & Bird – said it is hard to see how the forum can continue as a collaborative and trusting process after yesterday’s law change.
“Changing the rules for water conservation orders was not needed to fix any problems at Environment Canterbury. This Bill was used as cover to smuggle in a change in the law equivalent to allowing mining in national parks,” Ecologic executive director Guy Salmon said.
Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson said: “A water conservation order is a national park for a river – there are only 15 in existence, but they provide bottom-line protection to just a few of our most precious and iconic wild waterways.”
Whitewater NZ patron Hugh Canard said: “Conservation orders are a national-level protection tool – just like national parks – and so it is utterly wrong to change their protection through a law about one region. Is the Government really saying that not one of our wild rivers is worth protecting?”
Forest & Bird general manager Mike Britton said: “The changes to the water conservation orders are as significant as the Schedule 4 mining issue – and to make it even worse the law has been changed with no consultation and no Select Committee process at all.”
“The new law is a giant kick in the guts for the thousands of Kiwi hunters and anglers who have collectively invested millions of dollars through the Fish & Game Council and other environment groups in securing protection for the select few rivers and lakes with conservation orders,” said Bryce Johnson.
“I would like to know whether industry groups – with whom we have worked so well within the forum – have been lobbying behind the forum’s back, despite the Ministers’ directive that that was not to happen. Or has the Government simply taken upon itself to leave the forum high and dry?”
Mike Britton said: “Forest & Bird considers the forum to be the sole good initiative of this Government on conservation, but its actions yesterday in unilaterally gutting our main river protection law seeks to destroy the only progress that was being made to protect our unique natural environment.”
The Land and Water Forum was established in 2009 by the Government to allow the three key sectors with an interest in water management – commercial, public and iwi – to reach consensus on reforms. It is funded by the Government and based on the Scandinavian model of ‘collaborative governance’ promoted by the National Party.
“The Government cannot ask stakeholders to behave in a collaborative manner unless it is prepared to behave in the same way itself,” said Guy Salmon.
Gary Taylor, Environmental Defence Society chair: 021 895-896 or 09 810-9594
Guy Salmon, Ecologic executive director: 021 548-336
Bryce Johnson, Fish & Game NZ CEO: 021 397-897
Hugh Canard, Whitewater NZ patron: 03 332-3414
Mike Britton, Forest & Bird general manager: 021 783-776