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Mini Aqua Goes Too Far Says Fish & Game

Thursday July 14, 2005

Mini Aqua Goes Too Far Says Fish & Game

Mini-Aqua goes too far, says Fish & Game, and puts the unique fisheries of the lower Waitaki River at serious risk.

Meridian Energy Limited has begun publicizing its Project Aqua replacement by saying that further energy production from the lower Waitaki is sustainable.

“The question they are not answering is, is mini-Aqua environmentally sustainable?” says Jay Graybill, Regional Manager, Central South Island Fish & Game. “We say there is too much risk and uncertainty that it will be environmentally sustainable.”

“The fishery of the lower Waitaki is unique in New Zealand”, says Graybill, “by having a nationally important salmon fishery AND excellent fisheries for both rainbow and brown trout. No other river in New Zealand sustains that unique combination.”

Meridian’s argument goes like this. The “minimum” flows identified for the Waitaki River are “optimum” for fisheries and therefore should on their own support the fisheries. This would allow Meridian to take all the water above the minimum (some two-thirds of the total flow) between Waitaki Dam and Black Point, about two-thirds of the length of the lower Waitaki.

“What if they don’t? Putting all the fisheries eggs into the minimum flow basket simply introduces too much risk and too much uncertainty,” says Mr Graybill. “Meridian’s own fisheries experts also highlight the risk and uncertainty if the lower Waitaki is reduced to minimum flows alone.”

Jay Graybill says that Meridian need look no farther than the upper Ohau River (in the upper Waitaki Catchment) to see how such assumptions can go wrong. It was dewatered for power production in about 1979 destroying the internationally renowned trout fishery.

“By agreement in 1990 the scientifically-based minimum flows were put down the river. The internationally renowned trout fishery has not recovered to this day,” he says.

Is putting the lower Waitaki trout and salmon fisheries to such risk worth it? No, says Fish & Game emphatically. “Surely the Waitaki River has been sacrificed enough to give power to the national power grid,” says Mr Graybill.


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