The earthquake provides perfect cover to steal the water from the river as everyone is to concerned with the life dramas around them. Wrybills are endangered as the proposed flow regime will lead to more weeds and provide cover for stalking predators.
The Rakaia was the first river in New Zealand to be protected by a Water Conservation Order (WCO) in 1988 – Water Conservation Orders are the equivalent of national parks for rivers.
The Rakaia River is the greatest of the remaining untamed braided rivers. Starting in the Southern Alps it reaches the ocean south of Lake Ellesmere/Te Waihora. It is one of the rivers that literally formed the Canterbury plains by moving rocks and stones down from the Southern Alps over millions of years.
The WCO protects minimum flows in the river and draws a line in the sand against irrigators and hydro companies.
And that’s why Trustpower (owned by Infratil) and the National Party Government are determined to break the WCO protecting the Rakaia River to extract water to irrigate up to 140,000 hectares of south Canterbury. There’s money in that river and they want it.
They plan to mine this national park.
As ordinary New Zealanders who like to swim, to hunt and fish and enjoy the outdoors we are confronted with with the giant dairy corporations with all their money, and with the Selwyn District Council and the government in their pocket.
They want to drain the Rakaia for more dairying. Forest and Bird’s Official Information Act requests revealed that as far back as September 2009 central government was meeting with Trustpower and had decided that they needed to change the WCO on the Rakaia if Trustpower’s irrigation scheme using Lake Coleridge for storage was to proceed. Here’s one abstract
Aide Memoire from Gerry Brownlee and David Carter to John Key, 4/9/09:
To accelerate the TrustPower Lake Coleridge proposal, application could be made to MfE to amend or revoke the existing Rakaia WCO.
Officials and Ministers were looking at how to change the WCO so they could get access to the water and lower the minimum flow. The Government was looking for a way forward when an opportunity presented itself in the form of the Canterbury mayors attacking ECAN. When the Government removed the elected councillors at ECAN, they simultaneously undermined WCOs in Canterbury with the same legislation. The earthquake has now provided perfect cover to steal the water from the river.
Flow minimums and flow variability are essential to the health of the river. Minimum flows mean that there is enough habitat for freshwater fish; medium flow events clean out the periphyton that grows on the shingle underwater; and big flows are essential for cleaning out the vegetation that grows on the islands between the braids. This vegetation can act as habitat for stoats and other predators of the birds on the river. If you eliminate the variability by controlling the flow, you eliminate the flora and fauna adapted to that variability.
Nearly three quarters of all the wrybills in the world live on the Rakaia – wrybills are the only bird to have a a right bending beak – to poke under the shingle for food. Black fronted terns are endangered but common on the river . On the 19 december the Key appointed commissioners are having a hearing initiated by Trustpower to vary the conservation order.