Le­gal chal­lenge over ECan river plan


A con­ser­va­tion or­gan­i­sa­tion is tak­ing le­gal ac­tion against En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury (ECan) over its po­ten­tial role in a plan that would al­low an ir­ri­ga­tion firm to de­lay in­tro­duc­ing min­i­mum wa­ter flows on the Hu­runui River.

New rates of min­i­mum flow were brought in by ECan five years ago as a long-term re­quire­ment under the Hu­runui and Wa­iau River Re­gional Plan (HWRRP) to safe­guard the river’s eco­log­i­cal needs.

But Amuri Ir­ri­ga­tion Com­pany (AIC) wants to de­lay com­ply­ing with the mea­sures un­til 2025 while it in­ves­ti­gates build­ing a dam to help ir­ri­ga­tion in North Can­ter­bury.

For­est & Bird is fu­ri­ous about the po­ten­tial de­lay – and is con­cerned about the pos­si­bil­ity of ECan en­ter­ing into a‘‘part­ner­ship’’ with AIC, say­ing it would be ‘‘un­law­ful’’ and against the coun­cil’s role as an in­de­pen­dent reg­u­la­tor.

The or­gan­i­sa­tion is tak­ing ECan to the En­vi­ron­ment Court to ask a judge to de­cide on the le­gal­ity of any coun­cil sup­port for the de­lay and its role in any po­ten­tial part­ner­ship with AIC.

For­est & Bird re­gional man- ager Jen Miller said: ‘‘We say that ECan is sim­ply not act­ing out its statu­tory re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to im­ple­ment the min­i­mum flows in its own plan, but in­stead is en­ter­ing into side agree­ments with an ir­ri­ga­tion com­pany.

‘‘We con­sider that to be in­ap­pro­pri­ate and not some­thing that it is able to do and that’s what we are seek­ing some sort of dec­la­ra­tion from the court about.’’

In an af­fi­davit sub­mit­ted to the court, Miller cited ex­am­ples of side agree­ments be­tween coun­cils and con­sent hold­ers fail­ing in the past, say­ing: ‘‘The con­cern is that the coun­cil will end up en­ter­ing an agree­ment with AIC, but the agree­ment will be un­en­force­able … and AIC will not be re­quired to keep its side of the agree­ment.’’

Miller also ar­gued that a side agree­ment would keep the pub­lic in the dark about its de­tails and sug­gested it would ef­fec­tively bind any fu­ture coun­cils to any deal that is made, hin­der­ing ECan’s abil­ity to re­view con­sents or change the agree­ment.

‘‘For­est & Bird has been crit­i­cal of the way in which the gov­er­nance ar­range­ments have al­lowed for in­creases in ir­ri­ga­tion and degra­da­tion of wa­ter qual­ity.

‘‘The pro­posed con­tract or side agree­ment will likely have ef­fect for many years.’’

AIC wants to de­lay in­tro­duc­ing min­i­mum wa­ter flows be­cause it says do­ing so now would im­pose sig­nif­i­cant fi­nan­cial costs on both the com­pany and the wider farm­ing com­mu­nity.

In­stead it is of­fer­ing to fund a host of en­vi­ron­men­tal mea­sures while it ex­am­ines the dam’s fea­si­bil­ity, in­clud­ing im­prov­ing wet­lands, habi­tats for riverbed birds and re­duc­ing ni­tro­gen run- off into the rivers.

If the de­lay is ap­proved it would mean the re­quire­ments of the HWRRP would not have been met dur­ing the en­tire life­span of the re­gion’s 10-year plan.


The Hu­runui in North Can­ter­bury at­tracts thou­sands of peo­ple, many of whom, like Pete Dormer, left, and Guy Hig­gin­son, en­joy fish­ing from its stony banks.

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