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WPG Banned From Talkback Show Due To Watercare

WPG Banned from talkback show! Why? Pressure from Watercare?OIA request!


OPEN LETTER/OFFICIAL INFORMATION REQUEST TO WATERCARE SERVICES CEO MARK FORD

11 April 2003

Dear Mark,

Yesterday, I rang up Radio Pacific to raise on Bill Ralston's programme, information that I had uncovered relating to the spraying of the herbicide Tordon over a tributary that allegedly caused $300,000 damage to horticultural crops in Kerikeri.

That the contractor allegedly sprayed herbicide (Tordon - active ingredient picloram) directly over water, when operating instructions that contractors should be following, stated clearly :

"Environmental Hazards

This pesticide is toxic to some plants at very low concentrations. Non-target plants may be adversely affected if pesticide is allowed to drift from areas of application.

Do not apply directly to water, to areas where surface water is present or to intertidal areas below the mean high water mark.

Do not contaminate water when disposing of equipment washwaters.

Do not contaminate water used for irrigation or domestic purposes by cleaning of equipment or disposal of wastes. do not allow runoff or spray to contaminate wells, irrigation ditches or any body of water used for irrigation or domestic purposes.

Do not make application when circumstances favour movement from treatment site.

Picloram is a chemical which can travel (seep or leach) through soil and under certain conditions has the potential to contaminate groundwater which may be used for irrigation and drinking purposes. Users are advised not to apply picloram where soils have a rapid to a very rapid permeability throughout the profile (such as loamy sand to sand) and the water table of an underlying aquifer is shallow or to soils containing sinkholes over limestone bedrock, severly fractured surfaces, and substrates which would allow direct introduction into an aquifer."

"Do not contaminate water intended for irrigation or domestic purposes.

To avoid injury to crops or other desirable plants, do not treat or allow spray drift or runoff to fall onto banks or bottoms of irrigation ditches, either dry or containing water, or other channels that carry water that may be used for irrigation or domestic purposes.

Avoid Injurious Spray Drift Applications should be made only when there is little or no hazard from spray drift. Very small quantities of spray, which may not be visible, may seriously injure susceptible plants......"

Speciman Label

Dow AgroSciences

Tordon *K

According to Northland Regional Council Team Leader

Paul Baynham, who I contacted yesterday, said the spraying happened last October, and the crop damage happened in November.

"A helicopter pilot, his employer and a landowner are to be prosecuted over an alleged aerial spraydrift incident, which caused an estimated $300,000 worth of crop damage at Kerikeri.

The Northland Regional Council is to lay 18 charges under the Resource Management Act after a helicopter spraying operation in October last year allegedly led to the contamination of a tributary of the Kerikeri River with herbicide.

The Council claims an unsuspecting commercial water company then supplied contaminated water from the tributary to several horticulturalists in the Kerikeri area. Cucumbers, eggplants and tomatoes grown by the horticulturists suffered an estimated $300,000 damage as a result, sparking an investigation by the Regional Council in late November 2002."

(Press Release Northland Regional Council, 9 April 2003)

I congatulated Paul Baynham and the Northland Regional Council, and told him how refreshing it was to see a public body acting in the public interest.

Out of interest, because of the obvious similarities with the John Hamilton case, I checked the Speciman Label for Grazon - the herbicide used by Watercare contractors to spray for gorse around Hayes Creek dam - which ended up in which the water, killing John Hamilton's tomatoes, this same water coming through the drinking fountain at his kid's school, and again, the operating instructions are very clear:

"ENVIRONMENTAL HAZARDS:

Do not apply directly to any body of water.

Do not contaminate water used for irrigation or domestic purposes by cleaning of equipment or disposal of wastes.

Do not allow run-off or spray to contaminate wells, irrigation ditches or any body of water used for irrigation or domestic purposes.

GENERAL INFORMATION

Many methods of application are possible.

The method chosen should be appropriate to the environmental, vegetative and other site conditions.

Read all precaution statements before using this product.

For more information or help, contact your local Dow AgroSciences representative."

So, I am personally in a blinding state of confusion as to how the risk of contamination to crops was not foreseeable, with all due respect to the learned law lords on the Privvy Council.

In both cases, contractors sprayed a product into the water, when they were NOT supposed to do so.

In both cases, horticulturalists suffered crop losses.

The stunning difference is that Watercare Services, who are supposed to have responsiblities for water quality, effectively defended their contractor, who had carried out the spraying and contaminated the water, while the Northland Regional Council are prosecuting the pilot, his company and the landowner

Was that the problem?

The fact that Watercare were simultaneously the landowner, who effectively caused the problem, because their contractor didn't follow operating instructions, and the water wholesale supplier, whose stated responsibilities under their Statement of Corporate Intent are:

"Environmental Care: To act in a manner which minimises the adverse impact of the Company's operations on the environment and where possible enhances the environment.

Public Health: To deliver high quality and reliable products and services which meet the needs of customers and protect public health. "

(Watercare Services Statement of Corporate Intent 2002/03)

Why didn't Watercare services simply say to John Hamilton

"Our Mission Statement, summarises the core values of the company, and are the guiding principles for all its activities and behaviour. They are the key drivers for the organisational culture of Watercare. Our Mission Statement is:

"To provide water and wastewater services that are economically viable, environmentally sound, socially responsible and responsive to customer needs, thereby enhancing the services of the company to all people across the Auckland region."

Our contractor sprayed herbicide into the water when he wasn't supposed to and as a result, killed your tomato crop.

This should never have happened.

We will make sure that you are compensated for your losses.

We realise that the long term health effects of pesticide contamination are unknown, and that the risk to public health will be minimised by trying to stop contaminants getting into the water in the first place.

These are the steps that we will take to make sure that this never happens again.....

Watercare Services take our responsibilities as a 'Corporate Citizen seriously, and we will 'do the right thing'."

Although I obviously would not have had time to make all of these points in the short amount of time available on talkback - in fact - I was not able to make any.

Bill Ralston's Producer told me that Bill Ralston didn't want me on his show any more because I had again raised an issue that had 'got him into a lot of trouble'.

That issue was discussion of the John Hamilton case, and the fact that Watercare Services were pursuing court costs of over $700,000.

Apparently, Watercare, with the involvement of lawyers had made a complaint to Radio Pacific over comments that I had made on the John Hamilton case before I went to World Water Forum in Kyoto.

When I tried to get on talkback to inform listeners about what had happened in Kyoto, I couldn't get on because the Producer believed that this complaint had not been sorted out. After discussions with the Programme Director, I was told that the Station believed that there was no case to answer, and that basically I was as entitled to ring up as anyone else.

So, I got on talkback again, and raised the John Hamilton issue again, and now I have been permanently 'banned' from Bill Ralston's show.

I find this to be an appalling violation of my right to freedom of expression.

Radio Pacific has always promoted itself as a station that allows freedom of expression and Bill Ralston, to his credit, was very supportive over the Ike Finau signs issue, which had as it's core, the issue of freedom of expression via signage on private property.

Ike Finau had lost in court, but that did not stop Bill Ralston supporting Ike in his battle on behalf of all New Zealanders in this fight for a basic human right.

There can be a major difference between the law and justice. Judgements can be commented upon publicly, after a decision is made, and if the decision seems stupid, members of the public have the right to say so.

It's a little thing called 'democracy'.

Just how much pressure is Watercare Services applying behind the scenes for me to be effectively banned by a host who has previously taken a strong stand in defence of freedom of expression, on a Radio Station which claims to defend freedom of expression?

I left at least three phone messages with Watercare Services, two with the Communications Manager Owen Gill, asking for a copy of the complaint that Watercare Services had made to Radio Pacific.

I have received no reply.

The information that I am now formally requesting under the Official Information Act is:

1)All correspondence of any form, including electronic, between Watercare Services and Watercare's legal representatives relating to making a complaint(s) to Radio Pacific, over statements that I have made in relation to any matter related to the John Hamilton case and Watercare Services.

2) A copy of any complaint(s) made to Radio Pacific over the above-mentioned matter.

3)All correspondence of any form, including electronic, that have been sent to any media ( including but not limited to radio, newspapers, or television) that complains about coverage relating to Watercare Services and the John Hamilton case; and any complaint(s) about coverage of the use of Waikato water as a raw source of drinking water and matters related to that issue.

In so doing, I would like to draw your attention to Watercare's responsibilities under the Statement of Corporate Intent, relating to Corporate Citizenship:

"To be a reasonable corporate citizen by acting lawfully, fairly, honestly, by communicating openly with the community and by maintaining support for a range of community intitiatives which are consistent with statutory obligations."

(Watercare's Statement of Corporate Intent 2002/03)

4) Can you explain how Watercare's not raising your concerns directly with me, complaining to Radio Pacific behind my back, to try and stop me communicating to the community, and not responding for my verbal requests for copies of your complaint to Radio Pacific, is not a breach of Watercare's objectives for 'Corporate Citizenship' under Watercare's Statement of Corporate Intent 2002/03?

5) I am formally requesting that youas CEO of Watercare Services, today, pass on to the Watercare Shareholders Representative Group and Watercare Board of Directors, notice that when I receive the above-mentioned information requested, I will be asking for a full and thorough investigation to be carried out into the behaviour and activities of The Watercare staff members responsible for this alleged breach of Watercare Services objectives for "Corporate Citizenship' under Watercare's Statement of Corporate Intent.

Watercare's behaviour, in my opinion, is yet more evidence as to why water services should not be operated and managed under the commercial model.

There are many of us in the community who hold the considered opinion that if employees of publicly-owned and operated bodies have no concept of serving the public, and acting in the public interest, that perhaps they should be employed elsewhere.

Looking forward to your prompt reply.

Please ensure that all members of the Watercare Shareholders Representative Group and Watercare Board of Directors get a copy of this letter today for the joint meeting due to start at 2.30pm Friday 11 April 2003.

Thank you.

Penny Bright

Media Spokesperson

Water Pressure Group (Auckland)


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