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Dump Waitaki Bill and plan all rivers properly

28 April 2004

Dump Waitaki Bill and plan all rivers properly: Greens

Green Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says water allocation legislation that she had a key role in amending and which subsequently helped stop Project Aqua should now be dumped.

The call follows media reports today that uncertainty over the fate of the Resource Management (Waitaki Catchment) Amendment Bill has led to the postponement of a High Court hearing on who can use water in the upper Waitaki. The significantly rewritten Bill returned to the House from the Fitzsimons-chaired Local Government and Environment Select Committee a week before Meridian Energy pulled the plug on Project Aqua late last month.

"The Greens supported the Bill, as rewritten, because we were in an emergency situation where there was no plan in place and applications to take water, in particular Project Aqua's attempt to take 73 per cent of the mean flow, exceeded the capacity of the river," said Ms Fitzsimons, the Green Spokesperson on Conservation and Energy.

"With Aqua now cancelled, there is no case for special legislation for the Waitaki River. There is still a need for a plan to manage the catchment and water allocation, but that is equally true for every New Zealand river and the Waitaki is actually under less pressure than a number of other rivers and should not be singled out.

"The Government has not announced its intentions in relation to the Waitaki Bill, which is creating considerable uncertainty for farmers, councils and existing energy production in the region. The Minister for the Environment should announce immediately that her Government will not proceed with the Bill so that the High Court hearing on water ownership in the upper Waitaki catchment can proceed without the present legal uncertainty.

"The Greens believe the Waitaki Bill should now be replaced with legislation requiring all regional councils to introduce catchment management plans for their major river systems. These should be supported and guided by a National Policy Statement on freshwater, as provided for under the RMA.

"New Zealanders are moving beyond a long-standing perception that our water is abundant and free, to a belated recognition that in many areas it is a scarce resource and has to be managed sustainably for present and future generations and to protect ecological values. Some influential people are taking a long time to wake up to this uncomfortable fact, but that should not stand in the way of sensible, ecological and democratic planning.

"A central principle of the RMA is that applications to use resources should be considered against an overview of those resources and provide for their sustainable management. For the Waitaki, and for most rivers in New Zealand, there is no plan or statement of the values to be protected or analysis of what flow rates are needed to sustain those values. It is high time this changed and water plans were put in place.

ENDS

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