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Canterbury water decision sends confusing message

25 August 2005

Court's Canterbury water decision sends confusing message

The Environment Court is sending a confused message on water conservation in its ruling reported today on a controversial water consent in Canterbury, Green Associate Environment Spokesperson Metiria Turei says.

The decision coincides with Mrs Turei and Green Rakaia candidate Mojo Mathers meeting yesterday with local community and iwi representatives concerned by the poor state of nearby Te Waihora-Lake Ellesmere.

"Given that the Court's finding acknowledges the poor condition of the waterways feeding Te Waihora-Lake Ellesmere and rightfully criticises Environment Canterbury for it's poor record keeping of the water take in the area, why has it then allowed Lynton Dairies to take too much water anyway?" Mrs Turei asks.

"This snapshot of a particular regional water issue highlights a nationwide concern that the Greens have been raising for some time. With NIWA saying that 95 percent of our lowland rivers are unsuitable for swimming, it should be clear to everyone that a purely voluntary approach to waterways restoration is just not working.

"We do urge ECan to take the Court's findings seriously and implement all of its recommendations urgently. Several groups have been calling for metering of water takes to be mandatory for years now. It is just not possible to regulate water use if you do not even know how much is being used. "However we are perplexed by the Court's decision to grant Lynton Dairies' water consent, as any further dairying on Canterbury's shallow free-draining soils is just not sustainable. These 3300 extra cows will seriously compromise groundwater quality and downstream drinking water sources."

Ms Mathers says Te Waihora-Lake Ellesmere is regionally, nationally and internationally a highly significant wetland habitat for both birds and fish.

"Both Metiria and I were shocked at its poor condition yesterday. The grey-green colour, lack of riparian management and unrestricted access by stock to the water were all too apparent. It was clear to us that this was a lake on the brink of an ecological crisis.

"While the Court notes the impact of poor land use and waterway management, it says there is 'no probative evidence to support the alleged link between the abstractions in the Te Pirita area and the effect on the lowland streams'. Do we have to wait until all the wells run dry to get conclusive evidence of over-abstraction? This is a classic example of a situation where the precautionary principle should be applied. Rolling the dice and hoping that extracting a huge amount of water upstream won't impact on one of our greatest lakes is simply shortsighted.

"The Court stated that it was 'shocked' at the effluent smell coming from a number of the waterways. Local farmers should be embarrassed that this is the case after ECan's years of promoting responsible management of waterways through its living streams program," Ms Mathers says.

ENDS

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