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Coming to a river near you

Coming to a river near you

Wed, 28 July 2004

Green Co-Leader Jeanette Fitzsimons says New Zealanders who care about their local rivers should be alarmed by a new Government report that paves the way for many waterways to be locked up in power generation.

The Ministry of Economic Development quietly published 'Water Bodies of National Importance' and its subsidiary 'Identification of Potential Hydroelectric Resources' yesterday (see http://www.med.govt.nz/ers/environment/water-bodies/index.html). The report identifies the general suitability of all New Zealand rivers and lakes for hydro development and lists 65 specific projects across the country it considers a priority.

"This report buried in a Ministry's website has serious implications for New Zealander's quality of life and our environment," said Ms Fitzsimons, the Green Party's Energy and Environment Spokesperson.

"The underlying message of this report is that a dam or a canal is coming to your local river. The dislocation and uncertainty people in North Otago felt over Project Aqua and that people in Marlborough are experiencing over the Wairau is going to be repeated throughout New Zealand. The Ministry's technocrats have simply asked 'what can this river generate?' They haven't first asked 'what does this river need to fulfil its environmental, cultural and recreational role as a river?'

Key points are: * The very title 'Water Bodies of National Importance' shows this report is designed to help fast track proposals under the 'national importance' criteria in the RMA.

* The report states that rivers inside National Parks are excluded from the 65 proposed projects. However some of these schemes involve damming rivers as soon as they leave National Parks and Forest Parks are not excluded at all. Under some of the regional 'Other Opportunities' water bodies in National Parks are viewed as fair game; for instance Lake Hauroko in Fiordland National Park is identified as suitable for hydro development because of the apparent low impact of the recent expansion of the Manapouri power station.

* Environmental legislation and regulations, such as Water Conservation Orders and gazetted protection for specific conservation land are simply viewed as hurdles to be overcome. This puts rivers such as the Mohaka in Hawkes Bay, which has an order on it, at risk. The public will be disturbed that apparent legal protection is no protection at all.

* The report says it has excluded projects that may be environmentally difficult, yet it still includes a number of projects that have already received huge community resistance.

* Proves Project Aqua is still on the drawing board; not only is it included as a possible scheme, the relevant land is still being held by Meridian and its resource consents are still in the system.

Significant Rivers listed for development in the MED report

* Four dams on the Ngaruroro River in Hawkes Bay, where no hydro schemes currently exist.

* Dam on the Mohaka River in Hawkes Bay, which currently has a Water Conservation Order.

* There are numerous proposals listed for damming and diverting rivers around the Bay of Plenty and East Cape region, including the Whakatane River, Raukokore River and tributaries of the Waiapu River.

* Diverting the Mangawhero River away from the Whangaehu River and into the Whanganui River. This is on the boundary of the Tongariro National Park.

* Damming the Waiohine River, a tributary of the Ruamahanga River, with its headwaters in the Tararua Ranges just out of Wellington.

* Damming the untouched and scenic Awatere River in its middle reaches in the Molesworth Station.

* Diverting the Clarence River through a tunnel near Hanmer Springs and discharging it into the Waiau River with a dam through the Waiau gorge - a famed scenic and recreation area.

* On the Ashburton River, two Water Conservation Orders would have to be amended to divert waters from two catchments and run canals through unmodified ex-glaciated basin (where scenes of Lord of the Rings were filmed, e.g. village of Edoras) and damming the river at the gorge.

Other options being considered that are currently prohibited under current Orders & legislation include a scheme on a river draining Lake Hauroko in Fiordland National Park and diverting a discharge of Lake Wakatipu down to the Southland Waiau catchment.

ENDS

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