Water Conservation Orders Commonly called WCOs

SQ Jim Mountain.jpeg

When it became clear in the 1970s that there were plans to develop hydroelectric dams on almost every large river in New Zealand, several outdoors groups set up the Wild and Scenic Rivers Committee.

They were concerned about the loss of wild water for scenic and recreational purposes, and the demise of unique habitat for wildlife such as whio (blue duck).

The committee argued that the law should not only allow water to be exploited, it should help safeguard it. In 1981 the government passed the Wild and Scenic Rivers amendment to the Water and Soil Conservation Act 1967, to ensure the wild and scenic values of a river were conserved.

In 1979, as a precursor to the Water and Soil Conservation Amendment Act 1981, the Minister of Works and Development and the Minister for the Environment adopted a set of policies to ensure the protection of rivers or sections of rivers which have outstanding wild, scenic or other natural characteristics.

In 1982 a draft of the national inventory of wild and scenic rivers was prepared to give effect to the joint ministerial policy statement. This draft was released for public comment and finalised in 1984.

In 1984, the Motu River, which flows through the Raukumara Forest Park in the Bay of Plenty, became the first river to be protected by a WCO. Since then, WCOs have been issued for 12 other rivers and two lakes (Lake Wairarapa and Lake Ellesmere).

The 1981 Amendment contemplated two levels of order – a National Water Conservation Order for water bodies that were nationally outstanding and a Local Water Conservation Notice for those that were regionally significant.

The RMA continued the previous water conservation law but in an amended form. The RMA established a single category of WCO, dropping the previous hierarchy of National Orders and Local Notices.

A WCO is the highest level of protection that New Zealand can afford to a body of freshwater. WCOs are described as the “National Parks of waterways,” and local councils must abide by WCO rules when considering resource consents that involve that waterway. A WCO prioritizes protecting any identified outstanding features such as fisheries, wildlife, Maori, cultural, recreational, wild and scenic or scientific values. WCOs exist in perpetuity, unless amended.

Some organisations that have applied for or supported WCOs

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3 Responses to Water Conservation Orders Commonly called WCOs

  1. Peter Trolove says:

    Since the Water and Soil Amendment 1981, WCOs are given statutory authority by the Resource Management Act 1991.

    The RMA 1991 was being transitioned to the Natural and Built Environment Act which the current coalition government will repeal.

    The lesson from ECan’s on/off application to the Environment Court is that the RMA failed to identify–beyond doubt–who is the authority that enforces WCOs.
    (At least in the opinion of the Environment Canterbury Regional Council).

    Everyone who values WCOs must demand this situation is remedied.

  2. Tony Orman says:

    The RMA, the brainchild of former minister Geoffrey Palmer was a poor move. I once recall Simon Upton then a MP and Minister, saying along the lines of “the beauty of the RMA is it lets people do what they want to do with their land.” The previous Town and Country Planning Act set out zoning of land use and was far better in respecting both the “public interest” and the environment.

    Well in my opinion and as a former town and country planning officer, I would argue the switch to the “free market” ideologically driven RMA was a disaster.

    In this case of WCOs and the Rakaia case, it seems the “authorities” are dragging the chain, neglecting the public interest and the environment.

    Environment Canterbury (ECan) by its very title, has a responsibility. So has Fish and Game and in particular North Canterbury Fish and Game. So has the Department of Conservation a responsibility to both trout and salmon and native fish. Where are these agencies? Have they abdicated their statutory responsibilities?

    Perhaps the Ministry for the Environment should be speaking up and reminding all three of their responsibilities and duty?

  3. Guus Vanderstaak says:

    I remember many year ago,when,together with 2 members of our eden-papakura-f/g subsocietry,we would travel to hamilton as a fish-sub-society,to talk about fishing//Is the time ripe too reinstate such fish-sub-committees again with a view to back the fine effort of our fisho’s mentioned in the above excellent info on w.o.f. orders etc.? Indeed,fish and game,and other outdoor agencies should be more active,and especially as the new government is appointing a full minister to our fine sports?

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