CONNECTING WITH THE LAND
Thankfully, these days a lot of large businesses support conservation projects. The special nature of Meridian's work generating power from New Zealand's natural resources makes this an integral part of its business.
Project River Recovery, launched in 1991 as an agreement between Meridian's state-owned predecessor Electricorp and the Department of Conservation is a great example. The project was envisaged as a means to mitigate the environmental impact of the six hydro power stations in the Waitaki Scheme from Lake Pukaki to Waitaki.
Rob Young is DoC's Area Manager for Twizel and has known the project pretty much since its inception. As someone who has worked in conservation since he was still at school in the 1970s, you probably don't get much of a tougher test of an environmental project's sincerity and effectiveness.
"The hydro scheme has taken the water from rivers like the Pukaki because the water that had owed into them had been diverted into canals to drive the turbines," he says. "The possibility of reinstating some of the water was looked into, but the costs were significant and the conservation value was not that high. So they then looked at where they could spend the same sort of money and get a better conservation result. This meant looking at other braided river systems that were in good condition but needed protection."
The result has been two decades of intensive weed control over about 33,000 hectares of riverbed, predator control, and about 100 hectares of new wetlands as well as research and community education. This has just earned the project the 2011 Ministry for the Environment's Green Ribbon Award for environmentally responsible large organisation.
Rob says: "It has been a really good relationship with good communication throughout. There has always been one person in the Meridian set-up that we liaise with, they generally come from an environmental background and have a good knowledge of things like the Resource Management Act, so it works well."
It is now widely recognised that the future of renewable power in New Zealand can only be secured alongside conservation projects like this one, because even the most eco-friendly sources of power have some impact on our environment.