Outstanding upper Hurunui catchment safe at last

Forest & Bird is welcoming a decision by a set of independent commissioners – accepted by Environment Canterbury today - that will ensure that the pristine Upper Hurunui catchment in North Canterbury, including Lake Sumner and the South Branch, will be kept in its natural state.

The endangered black fronted tern. Photo: Peter Langlands

The endangered black fronted tern. Photo: Peter Langlands

The decision means that under the Hurunui and Waiau River Regional Plan, irrigation dams will be prohibited anywhere in the Upper Hurunui and Waiau River catchments. 

“The prohibition on dams in the Upper Hurunui in particular is great news,” says Forest & Bird’s South Island manager Chris Todd.  “We and many others have fought for this for decades. This decision reverses that of the government-appointed ECan Commissioners, who recommended that the door be left open for dams on the river.  

“Forest and Bird, Fish and Game, White Water New Zealand and so many others have always maintained that Lake Sumner and the Upper Hurunui are nationally outstanding, and deserve the strongest available protection.  Now these waterways have it,” says Chris Todd. 

“This has been a long and difficult battle. Supporters of the Hurunui had almost secured permanent protection for the river in 2010, before the government sacked Canterbury’s regional councillors, and snatched away the pending Water Conservation Order - in order to accelerate the building of irrigation schemes.   

Chris Todd says however that the commissioner’s recommendations also allow for a 25 per cent increase in nitrogen loads. 

“This is very risky for the river: there will be the potential for an algal bloom every time there is a flush of phosphorous to set it off,” says Chris Todd. 

“Forest and Bird is pleased that the minimum flow levels will be implemented immediately. However the science is clear that the minimum allowable flows are far too low in spring and early summer, and that will further endanger braided river birds,” says Chris Todd. 

Chris Todd,  021 418 502.