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Time to Stop “Think Big” Water Exploitation

Time to Stop “Think Big” Water Exploitation of Canterbury Environment

An immediate stop should be applied to Canterbury’s water resources being exploited and for private profit says a national trout fishing and rivers advocacy.

The NZ Federation of Freshwaters Angler’s president Peter Trolove, a Canterbury veterinarian with experience in freshwater aquaculture, said the National-led government’s response to the 2007/8 recession despite being aware of the high nitrate levels in ground-water, was to gamble on massive “think big” irrigation projects in Canterbury to achieve a short term lift in GDP.

“Economists’ models concluded that this development would not prove profitable despite massive government subsidies,” he said.

The situation was a muddled mess from the previous government’s policies and actions.

“Ecan can allow Trustpower to sell water from Lake Coleridge to Central Plains Irrigation, but is unable to stop Chinese bottling free water abstracted from the Christchurch City aquifer through the use of redundant industrial water consents.”

Aggravating the problem was the John Key government’s Environment Canterbury Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management Act 2010, passed under urgency, which removed the public’s access to the Environment Court. The non-statutory Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) was given primacy over the RMA and the CWMS became a “living document” which allowed Ecan to amend it to suit the exploitation policy.



In 2010 elected Ecan councillors were replaced by Key government appointed commissioners who included a career bureaucrat, lawyers, a dairy farmer, and businessmen.

“Their purpose was to fast track central government’s irrigation ambitions,” said Peter Trolove.

Ecan no longer meets its accountabilities to environment as required by the RMA while the Ecan Act 2010 diminished Canterbury’s National Water Conservation Orders.

“The majority of ratepayers were disenfranchised when Ecan set up 10 water zone committees comprised primarily of water users to determine fate of the region’s water,” he said.

No amount of public relations spin from Ecan and farming interests can hide what is apparent to recreational water users said Peter Trolove.

Many of our lowland rivers have become unsafe for swimming and contact by dogs. Trout and native fish were fast disappearing due to high nitrate levels and braided river ecology was showing dramatic change with the loss of native and recreational fish due to over-abstraction by irrigation, sedimentation and agricultural encroachment of riparian margins. The mounting environmental crisis came to a head in 2017 when many of Canterbury’s rivers and streams simply dried up.

Rural residents reliant on private wells were now becoming aware that drinking water now came with the risk of increased rates of bowel cancer.

“Ecan has turned the region’s once envied water resources into a poisoned chalice,” added Peter Trolove.

Reversing the wilful destruction of Canterbury’s (and New Zealand’s) freshwater resources would be a long term affair well beyond a three year government term he said. A major factor in the defeat of the National-led government and the occupation of government benches by a Labour-Greens-NZ First coalition was because a solid majority of voters had belatedly become aware that the exploitive freshwater policies were not sustainable. Peter Trolove found it appalling that a National’s Csbint Minister blithely tried to justify the state takeover of Ecan and the unbridled expansion of dairying by saying “Canterbury was sacrificed for the good of New Zealand”.

Encouragingly the present government’s intent stated publicly was to address the crisis.

“However action and deeds are more important than utterances,” said Peter Trolove and added, “The current review of the National Policy Statement For Freshwater Management (Freshwater NPS) in particular the National Environmental Standards for Freshwater Management (Freshwater NES) currently being developed for consultation and due to be in force by April-June 2020 will be the yardstick by which the present government will be measured.”

He said the Freshwater NES, previously NPS FM standards 2014, by the Key government were little more than a complex deception by the government of the day.

“It simply provided pollution guidelines with headroom to allow further dairy development with little or no ecological or environmental meaning. The NPS standards effectively gave central government cover to regional councils to continue with their unsustainable allocation/polluting consents.”

Peter Trolove said several experts had expressed concern but were at the time, ignored.

“Canterbury has the highest GDP per capita and worst water pollution of any region in New Zealand”. Dr Alistair Humphry, Chief Medical Officer of Health, Canterbury DHB.

“Nitrate pollution will get worse before it gets better”. Tim Davie, Environment Canterbury’s Chief Scientist. [Environment Canterbury is the marketing name of the Canterbury Regional Council]

“There is currently no known science based means to effectively manage nitrate pollution from intensive dairy farming on Canterbury’s vulnerable porous soils.” Dr Alison Dewes, Environmental Advisor to Pamu Farms.

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