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Open season on protected lakes and rivers?

Open season on protected lakes and rivers?

News today that the Government is considering weakening the Water Conservation Order (WCO) on the Rakaia River is just the tip of the iceberg, with the Government declaring open season on our most protected rivers and lakes, the Green Party said.

“WCOs are the equivalent of National Parks for water bodies. They provide bottom line protection for some of our most beautiful wild waterways,” Green Party Co-leader Dr Russel Norman said.

“Considering this Government’s plans to mine our National Parks, we should not be surprised that they are considering a similar assault on our most protected waterways."

WCOs aim to recognise the nationally outstanding values of particular waterways by restricting damming, water takes, and pollution.

Answers received from Agriculture Minister David Carter and Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith to questions asked by Dr Norman reveal that the Government will not commit to keeping WCOs as a tool for protecting outstanding rivers and lakes, and may be considering scrapping them.

“Neither Minister will acknowledge the value of WCOs for protecting our most treasured waterways, calling them ‘blunt,’ and ‘problematic’,” Dr Norman said.

“David Carter has asked the Land and Water Forum to recommend reforms for fresh water, including considering whether WCOs have ‘outlived their usefulness,’ while Nick Smith has asked officials at the Ministry for the Environment to consider reforms to WCOs as part of his RMA reform agenda. Federated Farmers has also called for WCOs to be reviewed.”

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There are currently 15 WCOs in place in New Zealand:

Water body Location
Motu River Near Gisborne
Rakaia River Canterbury
Lake Wairarapa Wairarapa
Manganuioteao River Ruapehu District
Lake Ellesmere Near Christchurch
Ahuriri River Mackenzie Basin
Grey River West Coast
Rangitikei River Central North Island
Kawarau River Near Queenstown
Mataura River Southland
Buller River West Coast
Motueka River Near Nelson
Mohaka River Hawkes Bay
Oreti River Southland
Rangitata River Canterbury

An application for a WCO on the Hurunui River has been recommended but is currently under appeal.

“Given the Government’s lack of commitment to WCOs, and the willingness they have shown to put economic interests ahead of conservation and environmental protection in other areas, all of these outstanding rivers and lakes could be under threat.

“Scrapping WCOs would be the equivalent of scrapping National Parks. There is no way this should be allowed to happen. Nor should the WCO mechanism be weakened. The public deserves to know what the Government is considering,” Dr Norman said.

References:

Full list of questions and answers from Dr Norman to Ministers Carter and Smith on WCOs: http://www.greens.org.nz/sites/default/files/QWAs_on_WCOs.doc

ENDS

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