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Minister’s Action Disgusts River Protection Group

Thursday January 22, 2004

Minister’s Action Disgusts River Protection Group

Fish & Game New Zealand said today that it was disgusted by Minister for the Environment, Marian Hobbs, speedy decision to set up a Special Tribunal to hear an application to alter part of the Water Conservation Order on the Buller River.

“We are disgusted by the Minister’s action when she moves swiftly in the interests of a power company and sits on her hands when it comes to gazetting two Water Conservation Orders which protect two more important rivers,” says Neil Deans, Fish & Game spokesperson.

“It took a 14 year battle by community and environmental groups to ensure that the Buller River, an icon of New Zealand rivers, was protected from hydro-electric companies and irrigators, and now with a swipe of a pen this Minister wants to significantly diminish its National Park-like status. It is galling when she cannot get around to gazetting a Water Conservation Order on the Mohaka River which was won 12 years ago, or the Motueka River which was applied for 14 years ago and finally won last year.”

The Minister announced yesterday that a Special Tribunal would be convened to hear an application to modify the Buller River Water Conservation Order. This, if agreed by the Tribunal, would allow the “Majac Trust” to apply to the Tasman District Council for a resource consent to divert water from the Gowan River, a tributary of the Buller, for a power scheme. When the proposed scheme operates it appears that there will be less than half the volume of water in the river than there is at the moment for half the year.

Says Neil Deans: “It is especially annoying when the Buller River Water Conservation Order does take into account future water supply needs and some hydro-electric options, but the Majac Trust want more than that.”

Bryce Johnson, Director of Fish & Game New Zealand says: “We believe, as do other environmental groups, that this Minister and some other members of the Government do not like Water Conservation Orders because they get in the road of the insatiable irrigation dreams of the agricultural sector, or the power development fantasies of hydro generators - neither of whom actually give a damn about the instream adverse effects of their proposals and the rest of the community. New Zealand’s hydro potential is very limited. There has to be a time when we say enough will be enough!”

“The angling community will object to this proposed action over the Buller River in the strongest political and public terms we can muster,” says Mr Johnson.

(Following is the media release announcing the Buller WCO and chronology of events)



Friday July 20, 2001


After a tortuous 14 year battle the implementation of a Water Conservation Order (WCO) on the Buller River, one of New Zealand’s most important river systems, takes place on Saturday. Fish and Game New Zealand was the applicant for the WCO and it is hosting the event.

The Buller River Conservation Order comes into effect on Saturday July 21. An event is being held at the source of the Buller River, at West Bay Lake Rotoiti, with representatives of key stakeholders including Iwi, Fish and Game New Zealand and other recreational users.

“This is a very important victory for the protection of one of New Zealand’s greatest waterways and a very valuable tourist resource,” says Neil Deans Fish and Game New Zealand spokesperson. “The Buller is the country’s largest remaining untapped river catchment. It has the biggest flood potential in the country rising to 20 metres. When it floods it just defies belief.”

“It has many major tributaries which would be considered significant rivers in their own right in other parts of the country. The Water Conservation Order protects a large section of the river and for the remainder protects water quantity and quality. It also prevents damming in most of the river catchment.”

“The river has enormous value for its excellent brown trout fishing and for kayaking, river rafting and adventure tourism generally. In the last 10 years Murchison has gone from a ‘sleepy hollow’ to a leading white water rafting venue.”

“It has taken a very long time to reach this point,” says Mr Deans, "due to the size and complexity of the Buller River itself which involves gold and coal mining interests, hydro power, local authorities, dairy farming and so on. Throughout the process of the Water Conservation Order there has been some major differences of opinion and drawn out negotiations to resolve them. The involvement of the Planning Tribunal and difficulty of the legal drafting of the WCO also contributed to the delay. Nonetheless, we are delighted that this day has finally arrived and it is a victory for all New Zealanders.”


Chronology of Events in the Granting of a Water Conservation Order for the Buller River Catchment

1985-86 Nelson Acclimatisation Society prepares case for an application for a Water Conservation Order for the upper Buller River and contributing waters.

29 September 1987 Nelson Acclimatisation Society and Council of South Island Acclimatisation Societies applies for a National Water Conservation Order for the upper Buller River and contributing waters.

12 August 1988 Minister for the Environment advertises the application for a National Water Conservation Order for public submissions and appoints a special tribunal of Drs Neil Algar, Mike Johnston and Jonet Ward to hear any submissions.

24 September 1988 Closing date for submissions on the application. 162 submissions received on the application. Note many of these submissions in support enlarge the scope of the order to encompass the whole river catchment.

20-22 March 1989 Hearing of submissions by the Special Tribunal in Westport. Twenty-nine parties represented, with 49 witnesses.

18 July 1989 Special Tribunal advises a decision to create a Draft National Water Conservation Order for the whole catchment of the Buller River.

Special Tribunal decision appealed to the Planning Tribunal by various parties (see below). Some appellants were seeking the order be removed or reduced in scope, while others sought its extension.

August 1991 – May 1992 Various discussions between parties and four pre-hearing conferences by the Planning Tribunal. A draft version of the order was produced in July in an attempt to resolve some objections.

1 October 1991 Resource Management Act comes into force, which includes water conservation orders. The present order would continue under the Water and Soil Conservation Act but once the process was complete, it would be gazetted under the new Act.

6 July 1992 Planning Tribunal begins its public inquiry into the Draft National Water Conservation (Buller River) Order 1989. Numerous parties included:
- The applicants, (now Nelson Marlborough Fish and Game Council and New Zealand Fish and Game Council);
- Department of Conservation, Ministry for the Environment, Ministry of Commerce;
- Buller District Council, West Coast Regional Council, Tasman District Council;
- Tasman Energy Limited, Buller Electricity;
- Milburn New Zealand Limited, Coal Corporation of New Zealand Limited, Macrae’s Mining;
- Maruia Society, New Zealand Canoeing Association

Questions of law were raised at this hearing which caused the inquiry to be adjourned for the Tribunal to consider its views.

7 May 1993 Planning Tribunal makes interlocutory decision on the order (C28/93). This has the effect of rejecting the “whole catchment” approach of the draft order. Instead, Judge Skelton outlines the tribunal’s view that each specific part of the catchment needed to be identified as outstanding for a particular reason and either preserved or specific conditions outlined in the order designed to protect the identified outstanding feature.

1994-1995 Negotiations and discussions between various parties to try and incorporate concerns about the scope and wording of the order to encompass the areas considered outstanding by the proponents while removing parts of the catchment or providing suitable conditions to alleviate concerns raised by objectors. This excluded the river downstream of Te Kuha below the lower gorge and most of the Inangahua River catchment, for example. Most parts of the river now sought for inclusion were not now contested between parties, nor were most of the conditions sought to protect waters. Contested waters included the Gowan, lower Matakitaki, Matiri, and Waitahu and Larry’s Creeks in the Inangahua River catchment.

1-12 May 1995 Planning Tribunal resumes its hearing of rebuttal evidence and cross-examination for two weeks at Westport.

3-7 July 1995 The hearing is resumed in Christchurch.

22-23 August 1995 The hearing is completed in Christchurch Evidence was heard from a total of 43 witnesses.

31 May 1996 Planning tribunal decision released in favour of a water conservation order for the Buller River. This confirmed most of the uncontested waters, supported the inclusion of the Gowan River on a split decision of the Tribunal, but excluded parts of the lower Matakitaki and Matiri Rivers on canoeing grounds and confirmed some boundaries for the Order’s effect for the Waitahu and Larry’s Creeks. Subsequently a number of drafts of the order appropriate for gazettal and also faithful to the Planning Tribunal decision, which involved many of the parties to the Planning Tribunal hearing.

18 June 2001 Buller River Water Conservation Order gazetted.

5 July 2001 Majac Trust takes High Court Action regarding delays in proceedings of the Buller Water Conservation Order gazettal.

21 July 2001 Buller River Water Conservation Order takes effect with celebration at the source of the Buller River at Lake Rotoiti.


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