High Water Pressure

We are trying to squeeze the last drops from our rivers – for irrigation and hydro electricity. And the water that’s left in them is becoming more degraded.

Mokihinui River, Photo: Craig Potton

Mokihinui River, Photo: Craig Potton

The wild Mokihinui River, north of Westport, is the latest river threatened with irreparable damage from a planned hydro-electricity dam. If Meridian Energy’s plan to build an 85-metre-high dam and flood a 14-kilometre stretch of the river goes ahead, this would be the biggest inundation of conservation land in New Zealand history.

Forest & Bird has decided to appeal the decision by the West Coast Regional Council commissioners to allow a dam on the Mokihinui – despite an expected cost of about
$100,000. “This beautiful river is too precious to destroy, especially since there are more appropriate hydro schemes planned for other West Coast rivers,” Forest & Bird General
Manager Mike Britton says.

“An appeal will put financial pressure on Forest & Bird, and we hope members and branches will contribute to the legal fund.”

The Mokihinui River gorge is fringed with pristine forest and sustains rare native blue ducks (whio), giant land snails, longfin eels and other animals.

In late March, the Government sacked Environment Canterbury (ECan) and replaced the elected regional councillors with appointed commissioners. The development-oriented commissioners have been given control over new water conservation orders (WCOs)
in the region, and have the power to change or overturn existing WCOs.

In April Forest & Bird obtained papers under the Official Information Act showing that from September last year briefings to Ministers and Cabinet papers focussed on the
Hurunui and Rakaia rivers and how the Crown could help remove “blockages” – WCOs and council processes – that stopped development of the rivers.

“The Wyatt Creech-led inquiry into ECan’s performance appears to have been a convenient and expedient way to enable the Government to take control of Canterbury’s rivers. It had little to do with ECan’s ability to function,” Forest & Bird Canterbury Field Officer Jen Miller says.

“We can’t continue to increase the demands made on our rivers to provide water to expand the dairy industry. The impact of dairying on the environment is well recognised
and there are natural limits on how much the industry can expand.

“Our braided rivers are unique. They are the habitat of endangered birds such as black stilts and wrybills. These rivers should be protected, not reduced to trickles where
birds, fish, eels and other creatures cannot survive.” Forest & Bird and other environmental and recreational organisations involved in the Land and Water Forum – a
Government-backed national group working on water management reform – expressed their disgust at the lack of consultation about the ECan changes.

In mid-March, the latest Dairying and Clean Streams Accord report revealed the environmental performance of dairy farmers is getting worse. It showed that the average
level of significant non-compliance by dairy farmers increased from 12 per cent to 15 per cent in the past year.

The report card also revealed that farmers have not made sufficient progress toward three other targets – managing farm nutrients, fencing significant wetlands, and
meeting regional plan and resource consent standards.

By Marina Skinner