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Meridian committed to helping Black Fronted Terns

Media Release
For immediate release: Friday, 23 January 2004

Meridian Energy committed to helping Black Fronted Terns

Meridian Energy is committed to ensuring Project Aqua does not adversely affect any bird populations – including the threatened Black Fronted Tern, and to mitigating any negative affects the development would have on the lower Waitaki environment.

Project Aqua is a proposed canal-based hydro-electric scheme in the Waitaki Valley near Oamaru. It would generate enough renewable electricity to power the equivalent of about 375,000 households in an average rainfall year and 250,000 households in a very dry year such as occurred in 1992 (a 1 in 20 year event).

Already, Meridian Energy has commissioned several independent reports to clearly identify how Project Aqua would impact on species living in the lower Waitaki environment.

Around 10% of the national population of Black Fronted Terns, a migratory species, spend part of their year living in the lower Waitaki. One of the reports* commissioned by Meridian identifies the lower Waitaki as a "very important breeding site for Black Fronted Terns" stating "the populations seem to have increased there in recent years."

"Meridian Energy is fully aware of how important it is we do everything we can to help maintain the Black Fronted Tern and other species living in the lower Waitaki area if Project Aqua is built," says Alan Seay, Meridian Energy spokesperson.

"We are already putting together a plan – the draft River Management Strategy (RMS), which includes a number of actions the company can take to mitigate the affect Project Aqua would have on the lower Waitaki Environment."

Several organisations, with statutory responsibilities for managing the river, are working with Meridian Energy to help prepare the draft RMS and associated management plans.

The organisations include: Environment Canterbury's River Engineering Section; the Head Office, Canterbury conservancy, Twizel and Raukapuka Area Offices, Project River Recovery and Fresh Water Sections at the Department of Conservation; Land Information New Zealand and the Central South Island Region of Fish and Game NZ.

Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu has also been invited to take part in preparing the draft RMS.

These groups, and others, will possibly form part of the proposed Lower Waitaki River Management Group, which will take an overview of the mitigation and the monitoring of the impacts of Project Aqua if it is constructed.

Proposals in the draft RMS, which will benefit the Black Fronted Tern populations include:
- Ensuring flushing flows – which could result in the loss of eggs and chicks – are not held during the breeding season
- Carrying out predator and weed control at specialist riverbed bird breeding sites
- Fencing parts of the main river to prevent stock from wandering onto the newly exposed river bed
- Preparing River Habitat and Riverbed Vegetation Management Plans to integrate management of both braided river bird and in-stream values with vegetation clearance and other management activities.

"Meridian Energy is absolute in its resolve to do all it can to help threatened and endangered species which could be affected by Project Aqua. One of our aims is to maintain the lower Waitaki's biodiversity," says Alan Seay.

"We have already shown our commitment by commissioning the reports we have identifying the negative impacts Project Aqua could have on such endangered species and by working with key organisations to minimise those impacts."

"If Project Aqua is built, we will be undertaking mitigation actions and monitoring fish and bird species in the lower Waitaki, if their populations are shown to be suffering, Meridian has already pledged to take action," says Alan Seay.

Project Aqua must be commercially viable and environmentally sustainable for Meridian Energy to proceed even if all the required consents and approvals are granted.

* The report being referred to is Project Aqua: Terrestial Ecology and Wetlands.
It was prepared by Boffa Miskell, a Christchurch based environmental consultancy.
It is Appendix L in Project Aqua: Assessment of Effects on the Environment.

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