Rakaia River National Water Conservation Order 1988 Worthless Thanks to Politicians and Bureaucrats

Special Report
The Rakaia River, a public waterway of once outstanding trout, salmon and native populations with associated wildlife values, has been gutted by politicians and bureaucrats , says the New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers (NZFFA).

Aggravating the losses is that the river was supposedly protected by a National Water Conservation Order, (NWCO), akin to a National Park status says NZFFA president Dr Peter Trolove. 

“The sad reality is that the outstanding Rakaia River characteristics, the hard fought 1988 NWCO sought to protect, have now either been greatly diminished or lost,” he says.

Dr Trolove said the original 1988 Rakaia NWCO introduced to protect the outstanding values was amended in 2013.

“Since then, those values protected by the original (1988) National Water Conservation Order have been lost,” he said. 

The outstanding landscapes are annually aerially sprayed with toxic herbicide, the outstanding fisheries and recreational fisheries have dramatically declined, a keystone species of native fish has become virtually extinct, five species of endangered birds adapted to this iconic braided river have seen their population counts halve, and the “protected” outstanding jet boating is much diminished.

The detrimental effects have rippled further. Low lying properties at the Rakaia Huts are flooded with increased frequency due to sustained low flows allowing the river mouth to partially close. This results in localised flooding prior to the mouth being breached when flood events occur.

, Rakaia River National Water Conservation Order 1988  Worthless Thanks to Politicians and Bureaucrats

Water Sold

In 2013, the Rakaia NWCO was amended to enable the Lake Coleridge Project – a scheme to allow Trustpower to divert up to 40% of the Rakaia catchment into Lake Coleridge where it is “stored” before being sold to two large irrigation schemes covering 100,000 hectares of Central Canterbury.

Dr Trolove said it was ironic that while the irrigation schemes from the 2013 NWCO amendment were hailed as an economic success, the important detail showed its monetary benefits were dubious. 

The cost has been NZ$400 million dollars of tax and ratepayer subsidies with 360 shareholders in Central Plains Water Ltd owing the Construction Bank of China and other Australian banks around NZ$360 million. The security for these loans are the consents “owned by the people of Canterbury” held in trust by the Central Plains Water Trust, whose annual administration fees of NZ$18,000 is paid by Selwyn District ratepayers.

“The irrigators annual water charge of NZ$958/ha makes the irrigation scheme uneconomic for all but the most intensive (and polluting) forms of farming.”

Human Health Threat

Detrimental outcomes with human health and environmental added to the costs. 

“Tragedies were pollution of the unconfined aquifer underlying the irrigated land with nitrate and cattle associated faecal pathogens threatening the health of rural well owners and making Te Waihora (Ellesmere) one of New Zealand’s most polluted lakes,” explained Dr Trolove.

Canterbury has one of the highest bowel cancer rates in the world, with a Danish study of 2.7 million people showing a very probable direct link between high nitrate levels and the cancer.

Dr Trolove said NZFFA had been working with other organisations such as Fish and Game, NZ Salmon Anglers and others on options to restore the Rakaia River. 

Who’s Accountable?

Fish and Game have elected to work with the Environmental Defence Society to seek advice from the Environment Court as to who is accountable for NWCOs. 

“The Federation is interested in what Fish and Game will do once the Environment Court has ruled on the accountabilities of various cabinet ministers, government departments, and regional government,” said Dr Trolove.

He said in addition to the deepening concerned about the present state of the Rakaia River, was anger by a recently released internal report revealing Ecan’s lack of compliance oversight of  irrigation abstractions from the Rakaia River, including Trustpower’s “creative” water budgeting for water “stored” then on sold from Lake Coleridge.

No Monitoring

“It seems there has been no compliance monitoring by Ecan who have been distancing themselves from this damming internal report conducted over two and a half years by a staff hydrologist. A report which was internally reviewed twice, externally peer reviewed once, and prompted the resignation of the staff member concerned when he refused to alter his report for the convenience of his Ecan managers.”

The NZFFA-led team resolved to seek a meeting with David Parker the Minister  for the Environment, as it seemed clear that Ecan is unable or unwilling to give effect to the Rakaia NWCO but government response had been non-existent.

Despite follow up emails after the initial approach to the Minister, there has been no reply. 

“It’s all so frustrating,” said Dr Trolove. “So recently NZFFA resolved to repeat our request in the form of an OIA request which at least will ensure a reply.” 

Last Resort?

With limited financial resources and no confidence in Ecan, NZFFA’s last resort may be to seek an amendment to the Rakaia River NWCO, which is clearly not fit for purpose in its present form.

Dr Trolove said there is very strong supporting evidence of the consequences of excessive irrigation abstraction contained in an Ecan commissioned report by ex-NWIA fisheries scientist Dr Don Jellyman, prepared for Environment Canterbury January 2022.

The fate of the public’s Rakaia River is at the crossroads.

“Can this dire and deteriorating situation be reversed by shaming Ecan and Minister David Parker into giving effect to the Water Conservation Order or must concerned New Zealanders seek a new amendment to the National Water (Rakaia River) Conservation Order 1988?” he said.



, Rakaia River National Water Conservation Order 1988  Worthless Thanks to Politicians and Bureaucrats

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6 Responses to Rakaia River National Water Conservation Order 1988 Worthless Thanks to Politicians and Bureaucrats

  1. Bud jones JonesQSM says:

    Dare iI mention the D word??
    Rampant expansion of Dairy farming on the flats on the porous leach risky ancient once was river bed soils.recipe disaster

  2. Frank Henry says:

    Where is Ardern’s heart-felt promise to clean up rivers made first in 2017. whee are ministers Parker and O’Connor pledges? Instead they are allowing the de-watering of public rivers.

  3. Val Yeats says:

    Well done Dr Trolove for exposing this appalling situation. Can this be the catalyst for getting change and making the NWCO work? The fact that such a conservation order can be tinkered with and changed to pervert the intent of the original order is tragic.

  4. Rupert Pye says:

    Former National MPs John Key and Nick Smith left a disgraceful legacy with their sacking of ECan, a democratically elected body and installing state puppet commissioners. It seem ECan has never recovered from that state indoctrination.
    Now it is loaded with farming interests – dairy farmers. They make platitudes before elections. Which raises the thought, why aren’t anglers and environmentalists standing for ECan? Get in where the decisions and policy are made.

  5. Alan Rennie says:

    Hi all,
    I agree with all this article, owning and polluting water makes a mockery of what our Forefathers fought for, are we going to disrespect their sacrifice
    The WCO being applied to Rakaia River ,Pupu Springs needs strength and the only way I can see this being done is to may be also apply for world heritage status on all our water, after all no one can own water. WATER – a Right disclaimed by Statute doesn’t just go away. It is intrinsic. It may be denied but it is not invalidated. Rights are like the Sun, the Moon, and the stars; like the tides and the seasons. They exist and are above and beyond the reach of the laws of man. The Common Law is not law made by Man. It is Law that exists..

    New Zealand has ratified all of the major human rights instruments that relate to the right to water, including IESCR,{International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, CEDAW, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women CRC Convention on the Rights of the Child and CRPD. Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

    The Government must take the steps necessary to ensure that everyone can enjoy safe, sufficient, acceptable, accessible and affordable water, without discrimination. This duty can be divided into the obligations to respect, protect and fulfil. There is also a closely related responsibility which is the duty of non retrogression, or not going backwards. For example, the duty to respect requires the Government to ensure its own activities and those of its agencies and representatives do not interfere with a person’s access to water. The duty to protect requires the Government to take all necessary steps to prevent third parties from interfering with the right to water. The duty to fulfil requires that the Government take active steps to ensure that everyone can enjoy the right to

    water as soon as possible. This has been described as “taking steps that accord sufficient recognition of the right within the national political and legal systems”.

  6. Ordinary Kiwi says:

    Those who blame politicians and bureaucrats for the worsening state of NZ affairs are missing the point.

    Who are these politicians and bureaucrats actually serving?

    You might mistakenly think they serve the voters and working people who pay their wages but then you will be mistaken.

    Politicians serve the small minority of influential political party members and funders who chose, supported and promoted them to become elected.

    They do not really give a damn about the rest of the people.

    In each electorate, a small number of people regularly meet secretly to plan how to beat those of the other political parties in the next election so that they can have control over who is in the government and what they do.

    What sort of people are these active and influential political party members?

    C. S Lewis described them as Omnipotent Moral Busybodies.

    “Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

    Don’t believe me?

    Join the National or Labour Party.
    Attend their secret little meetings.
    Find out for yourself.

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