Minister Parker In Denial Over Hydro Exception
Environment Minister David Parker has responded to community outrage over the Manapouri Power Scheme being exempt from the Government’s Freshwater Policy, claiming, “this is not an exception”.
Yet the relevant section of the National Policy Statement is titled, ‘Exception for large hydro schemes’.
Claire Jordan, an Environmental Scientist and Planner with the Waiau Rivercare Group, which advocates for the Waiau River, described the Minister’s response as “disingenuous”.
“The Waiau is different from other large hydro schemes, the water isn’t returned to the River. 64% of New Zealand’s consented surface water is taken out of the Waiau River and never returned. That’s 95% of the River. Removing all that water is the primary cause of degradation in the Waiau.”
The new policy means Environment Southland will be required to not adversely impact the ‘generation capacity, storage and operational flexibility’ of the Manapouri Power Scheme, Jordan said.
“The unique design of the Scheme, inevitably means, returning any water to the River will impact on ‘generation capacity, storage and operational flexibility’ even if the impact is small” Jordan said.
“The Council has been given a very clear direction – do what you can for the River, so long as it doesn’t impact the Power Scheme. Unfortunately, that leaves the Community to shoulder the regulatory burden with only 5% of the flow.”
Paul Marshall, Waiau Rivercare Group Co-chair said, “The Minister’s response is disappointing, it shows he is not prepared to listen to our Community.”
In response to Minister Parker’s suggestion that the Waiau Rivercare Group would be consulted by Environment Southland, Jordan said, “Even before these changes, Environment Southland had guaranteed Meridian a new resource consent when the current one expires in 2031, excluding the Community from the conversation. We have been fighting that decision in the Environment Court for 2 years now. This change undermines our case to be heard.”
Minister Parker said “We are doing this to ensure New Zealand’s ability to produce hydroelectricity is not jeopardised. This policy balances New Zealand’s climate change obligations, security of electricity supply in a dry year and improving the quality of our freshwater,’’
In response, Marshall said, “The situation in the Waiau has never been about balance. You have a small, disadvantaged community up against a big corporate and the Government, who, when faced with a valid argument to return just 3% of the water they take from the River, have changed the law to silence the Community.”
Clutha-Southland MP Hamish Walker described the policy as “yet another example from this Government of one rule for one business, which is 51% Government-owned, and another for the many other people who will have to meet the regulations of this policy”.
The Waiau Rivercare Group is petitioning the Government to include the power scheme. “We ask all New Zealanders to stand and support us as we work to conserve and replenish this national taonga. Please support us as we continue our fight to restore our Awa.”
At the time of writing there were nearly 800 signatures. The Group’s petition is here.