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Crunch time for New Zealand's rivers

15 December 2004

Crunch time for New Zealand's rivers

Four long established environmental and outdoor recreational organisations have joined together to fight to save New Zealand's rivers from the growing threats caused by irrigation, hydroelectric schemes, pollution, and increasing limitations on public access.

"This is crunch time for New Zealand's rivers. Our rivers are polluted. There is also enormous pressure to dam, divert and suck water from our rivers. Worst of all, proposed changes to the Resource Management Act (RMA) will make it harder for communities to protect their rivers," said Forest and Bird's Conservation Manager Kevin Hackwell.

Today in Hamilton, by the banks of the polluted Waikato River, representatives of Fish & Game New Zealand, the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society, Federated Mountain Clubs and the New Zealand Recreational Canoeing Association launched the new "Living Rivers" coalition.

Last year's Annual Report by government chief executives on the implementation of the Biodiversity Strategy warned that:

"At the current level of effort, and with existing knowledge, the rate of decline [of freshwater species] is likely to increase over time, with a resulting loss of species from some locations and extinctions of some species (pg 45)."

"Sadly there is no evidence that the Ministry for the Environment or Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry consider extinction an important issue for sustainable development in New Zealand. Nowhere in their joint discussion document on the Government's water programme of action did officials mention the risk that native freshwater species may go extinct," he said.

"There's nothing in the report about braided rivers, or the threatened fish species and birds that live in them. Instead the ministries were concerned that 'setting environmental bottom-lines is costly and contentious', and the 'development of water infrastructure is not keeping pace with demand'," he said.

"We are also seeing changes to the RMA that will make it easier for the developers to force new hydroelectric and irrigation schemes onto unwilling communities who want their local rivers protected," he said.

"Regional councils will be required to promote infrastructure and all local authorities will have new powers to strike out submissions from submitters they don't like," he said.

"Central government will have new powers that include a National Development Act style of fast-track decision making process for major projects and wide powers for the Minister for the Environment to write edicts to interfere in local government," he said.


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