Environment Canterbury clarifies its role in the Rakaia Water Conservation Order
ECan Media Release, Nov 14 2023
Opinion piece by
Dr Peter Trolove
New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers
“Oh what a tangled web we weave / When first we practice to deceive” Sir Walter Scott (1808)
Conservation and recreational angling advocacy groups were left astounded by ECan’s explanation for pulling out of an Environment Court Declaration it had sought in February 2023.
It appears Ecan is the only party who agrees with the content of ECan’s media release.
Environment Canterbury has been the subject of much controversy since it was undemocratically appropriated by the John Key government through the undemocratic and constitutionally repugnant Ecan Act 2010.
Ecan seems unable to cast off the toxic culture that developed following a decade of governance by government-appointed commissioners.
Regional Councils are delegated with oversight of a region’s land air and water, on behalf of the government which is achieved through a combination of regulations and consents. (Consents are time-limited permissions to carry out non-complying activities monitored by the consenting authority).
An important part of our democracy, regional councils are governed by elected councillors who provide governance of council staff charged with giving effect to the council’s statutory roles on behalf of the community. Councils are funded by ratepayers.
For the system to endure, Regional Councils must retain credibility and the trust of their communities.
The overarching legislation driving regional councils is the Resource Management Act 1991 (RMA).
The RMA is in the process of being replaced by the Natural and Built Environment Act 2023 (NBEA).
The incoming government has signalled its intention to repeal the NBEA.
The RMA proscribed the duties and responsibilities of regional councils with respect to a region’s land, air, and water. A region’s Land and Water Regional Plan (LWRP) is subordinate to National Water Conservation Orders (NWCOs) which are perceived to have the statutory protections equivalent to National Parks.
The Ecan Act 2010
The Ecan Act was first and last a blunt device to stimulate the economy through facilitating the consenting of region-wide irrigation development.
Canterbury’s WCOs were targeted by the Act. Ecan has failed to achieve any of its freshwater environmental targets or goals along the way. Irrigation has come at a high price for the environment.
Anglers and environmentalists have watched in dismay as the Canterbury Plains became a monoculture of unsustainable irrigated dairy farms while being excluded by undemocratic processes.
It is becoming increasingly evident that John Key’s short-term focus on increasing GDP has created a legacy of environmental harm that Ecan is unable to manage and which comes at an unacceptable cost to present and future generations.
The Rakaia River NWCO 1988 and ECan’s on/off application to the Environment Court
Having failed to give effect to the Rakaia River WCO, and having tacitly accepted Manawa Energy’s dodgy water harvesting scam, Ecan is finding itself very exposed.
In a desperate effort to absolve itself of the mess it has created, in February 2023 Ecan applied to the Environment Court seeking a Declaration from the Environment Court claiming that it is not responsible for giving effect to the Rakaia River NWCO. At the same time, Manawa Energy jointly applied to the Environment Court for a Declaration from the Environment Court that its water budgeting device should stand.
In 2014, a year after the Rakaia River NWCO 1988 was amended, Trustpower/Manawa Energy advised Ecan in an unchallenged letter that they would be reinterpreting the amended Rakaia NWCO on their own terms.
Hoist on their own petard
Last Friday, 10 November, Ecan abruptly withdrew its application to the Environment Court brazenly advising opposing parties’ lawyers after the event.
The deceitful and dishonest media release by ECan’s CEO Stefanie Rixecker on behalf of the Council has astounded the New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers, NZ Salmon Anglers, (both interested parties), and the two main opposing respondents, the Environmental Defence Society (EDS) and North Canterbury F&G.
What is the story?
The Chief Environment Editor for Newsroom summed up what little information we can gather to date, (14 November 2023):
Today, (15 November), the Christchurch Press followed up by reporting that David Parker, Minister for the Environment had intervened arguing that Ecan had full enforcement powers over Lake Coleridge and the Rakaia.
More to the point, the Minister did not have the enforcement powers. Ecan and the Minister both said “Not me” the reporter said.
This has implications for all of New Zealand’s National Water Conservation Orders.
Where to next?
While it is time to regroup and make a considered response, this matter deserves a response from all anglers across New Zealand if we are to have meaningful NWCOs.
It is time for a wide public backlash as well as pursuing legal options costly though they may be for environmental advocates, (and long-suffering Canterbury ratepayers).
No wonder New Zealand’s freshwater quality and quantity are in such rapid decline. The present situation is simply unacceptable.