River plans should float on realism
With concerns about how the Healthy Rivers Plan Change will affect rural communities in the Waikato and Waipa River catchments, it is timely to highlight a plan change will also be developed in future for the Waihou and Piako River catchments.
This will be a concern for all rural communities in the catchments, as the modelling shows financial and social costs from the Healthy Rivers plan change, while yet to be finalised, appear to be negative.
There could be loss of businesses and jobs and additional costs loaded onto already stressed ratepayers.
While we all want improved river water quality, I question whether it is worth all these costs, social and otherwise, to improve what is already good water quality, with data showing an improving trend in the last couple of decades.
Sea Change has been examining ways to improve the Hauraki Gulf’s environmental health.
Their research has shown sediment is the number one contaminant, hardly surprising given the Kaimai Ranges comprise a large part of the catchment.
People’s expectations that all rivers should look crystal clear and sky blue are unrealistic; when a river system runs through bush and peat, it will look discoloured when it enters the ocean.
The Waikato and Waipa communities want their rivers to be swimmable. For the Waihou and Piako catchments, a process will be needed to identify community values for our rivers, as well as recognising their impact on the Hauraki Gulf.
What has been detrimental to the gulf’s health has been the decimation of native mussel beds around the Firth of Thames that used to naturally filter sediment and nutrients before they entered the ocean.
It is a combination of these values and good science that needs to be the basis of developing policy and rules for the Waihou and Piako catchments, whether by a Collaborative Stakeholder Group (CSG) or any other process.
One of my greatest fears is that the process will be dominated by Hauraki Gulf outcomes and therefore dominated by the Auckland Council.
That council has an urbancentric view of the gulf that may be at odds with farmers and communities on the Hauraki Plains and their environment.
Moves on any Waihou and Piako plan change may be some years off yet but we need to keep a watch on this important topic.
Andrew McGiven Federated Farmers Waikato vice-president.
Andrew McGiven, keeping an eye on Waihou and Piako river plans.