Wa­ter protest tar­gets ECan of­fice

Marlborough Express - - NEWS - CHARLIE MITCHELL AND JOEL INESON

Nearly 100 peo­ple oc­cu­pied En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury’s (ECan) of­fices de­mand­ing changes to a trend of ‘‘big ir­ri­ga­tion, more cows and more pol­luted rivers’’.

The protesters, backed by Green­peace, set up in the re­gional coun­cil’s lobby yes­ter­day, hang­ing ban­ners that read ‘‘Save Our Rivers – Democ­racy Now’’.

It was the third in a se­ries of re­cent protest ac­tions re­lated to wa­ter is­sues in Can­ter­bury. Last week, sev­eral Green­peace protesters were ar­rested at a dam build­ing site as­so­ci­ated with Cen­tral Plains Wa­ter.

They had ear­lier oc­cu­pied an­other site as­so­ci­ated with the ir­ri­ga­tion scheme.

‘‘Right now, the state of our rivers in this re­gion and around the coun­try is in a cri­sis state,’’ Green­peace cam­paigner Gen Toop said.

‘‘This move­ment to save our rivers has been hap­pen­ing for a long time, and to­day we’ve taken it to the next level.’’

Fake cows were placed on the re­serve in front of the build­ing. Var­i­ous speak­ers ad­dressed the group in the lobby.

It was a mes­sage aimed to­wards all po­lit­i­cal par­ties vy­ing for a place in the next govern­ment, Toop said.

‘‘We want clean rivers in New Zealand and to get there we need fewer cows and democ­racy re­stored to Can­ter­bury.

‘‘We have three huge ir­ri­ga­tion schemes, one cur­rently un­der con­struc­tion and two in the pipe­line, which are be­ing funded by the Govern­ment, which are be­ing al­lowed by ECan, and which will be a dis­as­ter for our rivers.’’

ECan’s elected coun­cil was sacked by the Govern­ment in 2009. Ap­pointed com­mis­sion­ers took their place.

Now, half the coun­cil is elected and the other half ap­pointed.

The ac­tivists set up ‘‘The Peo­ple’s ECan’’ in­side the lobby. Many had pledged not to move, even if asked, and would re­main for at least the du­ra­tion of the day.

ECan chief ex­ec­u­tive Bill Bay­field said the or­gan­i­sa­tion had wel­comed the protesters and they would not have to move.

‘‘We’ve had good in­ter­ac­tion with the protesters, we re­spect their views and they in turn are re­spect­ful of the fact this is a busy work en­vi­ron­ment.’’

Bay­field said Green­peace had as­sured ECan the protest would be peace­ful and his staff con­tin­ued to work around them.

There have been pe­ri­odic protests de­mand­ing a re­turn to democ­racy.

Among the protesters was Bryan Clear­wa­ter, a dairy farmer from South Can­ter­bury.

He said the ground­wa­ter be­neath his farm was pol­luted with ni­trates, and clean wa­ter was pumped to his house by Fon­terra.

‘‘We’re ob­vi­ously pretty con­cerned,’’ he said.

‘‘My col­leagues in the dairy in­dus­try are not just re­ceiv­ing an en­vi­ron­men­tal sub­sidy, we are re­ceiv­ing a pub­lic health sub­sidy as well.’’

His farm had a low en­vi­ron­men­tal foot­print and did not add ni­tro­gen to the soil. He re­ceived a pre­mium for the or­ganic milk his farm pro­duced.

He said dairy farm­ing in Can­ter­bury needed to de-in­ten­sify, with a fo­cus on soil man­age­ment and lower stock­ing rates.

In­dus­try group Ir­ri­ga­tion NZ said Green­peace was mis­lead­ing New Zealan­ders about the im­pact of ir­ri­ga­tion on wa­ter pol­lu­tion.

‘‘More than half of this coun­try’s ir­ri­ga­tion is not for dairy but to pro­duce af­ford­able lo­cal fruit, veg­eta­bles, ce­re­als and meat en­joyed by all New Zealan­ders,’’ said chief ex­ec­u­tive An­drew Cur­tis.

PHOTO: GE­ORGE HEARD/STUFF

Green­peace protesters oc­cu­py­ing the En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury of­fice in Christchurch yes­ter­day.

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