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Environment Canterbury (ECAN) Failing the Law

Environment Canterbury (ECAN) Failing the Law

Environment Canterbury (ECAN) ever since the previous National government sacked the democratically elected council in 2010 and replaced it with “puppet Commissioners”, has failed to implement policy as required by the Resource Management Act says Dr Peter Trolove, president of the NZ Federation of Freshwater Anglers, a national rivers and trout advocacy.

“This leads to the logical suspicion that the National government and its environment Minister Nick Smith disregarded the legal obligations of ECAN in order to pave the way for more corporate dairy farming development, which now is having disastrous consequences of excessive nitrates damaging river ecology health and the integrity of the public’s drinking water. It was also an unprincipled state grab and an insult to democracy.”

Dr Trolove said the delays in returning ECAN to a fully democratically elected council had been unforgivable. The six “government puppet” commissioners were only expected to serve until 2013 but their tenure was extended by the National government. At the time environment Minister Smith said a return to a wholly-elected council at that point could jeopardise work under way, particularly on water reforms.

“Water reforms was a misnomer,” said Peter Trolove. “Perhaps Smith should have said it would jeopardise the Key-government’s agenda for maximum dairying conversions?”

He said the “constitutionally repugnant” Environment Canterbury Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management Act 2010, removed some of ECAN’s obligations under the Resource Management Act (RMA) and allowed ECAN to amend the National Water Conservation Order Rakaia River (1988) to progress the Key- government’s agenda for more dairying.

“Nevertheless there still remained the obligation for government’s ECAN to have regard to the vision and principles of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy, (CWMS),” he added.

Among the primary principles of the CWMS were that “water is a public resource which must be managed in accordance with sustainability principles and be consistent with the RMA and Local Government Acts — that first order priority considerations were the environment, customary uses, community supplies and stock water with second order priority considerations being irrigation, renewable energy, recreation, tourism and amenity — (with) — a strong emphasis on the integration of water and land management including the protection of indigenous biodiversity and enhancement of water quality.”

But the reality was CWMS priorities wre ignored and matters had become worse with Medical Officer of Health Dr Alister Humphrey a few weeks ago, warning that levels of nitrate, with strong links to cancer, were dangerously high with the potential for Canterbury's water to become undrinkable. Peter Trolove noted that at the time of the Key government’s state takeover of ECAN, Labour’s environment spokesperson Megan Woods now a Cabinet Minister, termed the government commissioner - led ECAN to be undemocratic. Labour, the Greens and NZ First had promised remedial action on degraded rivers.

“We’re looking forward to not only reinstating democracy but some instant, positive and firm action on water and rivers by the Labour-led government,” he said.

He said the National Party’s architect of the government take-over in 2010 and suspension of elections that followed was now “conspicuous by his silence.”


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