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Former EPA chief scientist's irrigation comments defied boss

1:02 pm on 10 May 2018

Benedict Collins, Political Reporter

The Environmental Protection Authority's former chief scientist was defying her boss when she made comments about irrigation and agriculture.

A copy of text messages between EPA chief executive Allan Freeth and Environment Minister David Parker. Photo: Supplied

Jacqueline Rowarth resigned in February, after her description of irrigation as a "great boon" to the environment caused a controversy late last year.

At the time she said irrigation helped farmers remain profitable, and they then invested that money in environmental projects.

Conservationists described those comments as "bizarre", while the government said irrigation caused enormous environmental damage.

Documents obtained by RNZ show the Prime Minister's chief science advisor and the Environment Ministry felt Dr Rowarth's public statements were undermining the EPA's credibility.

Messages obtained by RNZ under the Official Information Act show the authority's chief executive, Allan Freeth, texted Environment Minister David Parker to apologise for the comments.

"David, I have [sic] owe you an apology for the issue this week involving the issue irrigation. Jacqueline has been instructed for some months now not to talk about agriculture or water. Her comments this week were in direct contravention to that instruction and I am dealing with that. Again, my apologies. Allan."

Mr Parker responded: "Thx [sic] Allan. She damaged herself, no [sic] you or me. David"

"Yes she did. I am still sorry it's not how I wished to start. Thank you see I [sic] soon I hope. Allan." Dr Freeth replied.

Last week, government MPs cleared Dr Freeth of misleading a select committee this year when he did not mention his interactions with ministers or the environment ministry regarding Dr Rowarth's views.

National was incensed, saying Dr Freeth had danced on the head of a pin.

RNZ has revealed Green Party MP and the associate Environment Minister ... Eugenie Sage had forwarded a highly critical media article about Dr Rowarth to Dr Freeth.

Ms Sage also said they had met and discussed Dr Rowarth's comments, but since said she had remembered incorrectly and the discussion never occurred.

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