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Time to recognise Otago's outstanding rivers

Time to recognise Otago's outstanding rivers

Fish & Game Otago has kicked off a campaign to highlight one of the region’s most outstanding river catchments, the Kawarau.

The river, along with many of its major tributaries are safeguarded by a Water Conservation Order (WCO) – the equivalent of National Park protection status for waterways. The WCO was granted 15 years ago.

Otago Fish & Game chief executive Niall Watson says few people are aware of the WCO status which protects Lake Wakatipu, the Kawarau River and its tributaries from developments or damaging uses.

Mr Watson says signage is being erected to remind and inform the public about the value of WCOs and their use as a tool for protecting wild rivers.

“People forget or don’t know that the river environment they enjoy today on their bike ride down past Gibbston, the river gorge they bungy jump into or the narrow shutes they jet boat past on the Shotover may not be there had it not been for a WCO to protect those outstanding natural features,” he says

The WCO protection status on the Kawarau was fiercely contested at the time by irrigators, power companies and even some local community people who thought it would compromise economic development.

“That’s been far from the case in the Wakatipu area where people seem to have grown to accept that the natural environment, including the protected waterways, are a huge asset to the region and country, especially for tourism and recreational activities.”

After being instigated by rafters and kayakers, the Department of Conservation and Fish & Game got behind the order and pressed it through the hearings stages to secure what is arguably one of the most sought-after angling locations and popular visitor catchments in the country.

But Mr Watson says WCOs need to be constantly monitored and, where possible, improved.

“Loopholes exist and exemptions for some valuable tributaries like the Nevis, where damming was not completely prohibited, were made with only limited information. That is now the subject of an amendment which seeks to preserve that catchments valuable free-flowing river and in turn its outstanding scenic, native fish and recreational sportsfishing values.”

Former All Blacks captain Anton Oliver is throwing his weight behind WCOs nationally. Although now based in London, Oliver is fronting efforts to preserve and even strengthen the use of WCOs throughout New Zealand.

“WCOs are the highest level of protection that can be afforded to any freshwater body in New Zealand, yet lots of people have never heard of them. We’ve only got a finite number of wild, free-flowing rivers left in this country and some are protected by a WCO.

“It’s time to get WCOs to the fore and ensure the average Kiwi understands just how precious they are. When a WCO is granted it provides National Park-type status, protecting its outstanding natural values for all freshwater fish, wildlife, outdoor recreation and present and future generations,” Mr Oliver says.


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