Wa­ter zone body ac­cused of farmer bias


Two ma­jor en­vi­ron­men­tal groups have walked away from an En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury wa­ter man­age­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion over ac­cu­sa­tions of bias to­wards farm­ers.

The Hu­runui-Wa­iau wa­ter zone com­mit­tee is sup­posed to pro­mote ‘‘col­lec­tive in­ter­ests’’ rather than rep­re­sent any par­tic­u­lar group.

But the North Can­ter­bury body is dom­i­nated by farm­ers, and af­ter years of frus­tra­tion Fish and Game has re­fused to at­tend any fur­ther meet­ings, claim­ing the or­gan­i­sa­tion gives its views lit­tle more than ‘‘to­ken con­sid­er­a­tion’’.

Writ­ing to com­mit­tee chair­man John Faulkner, Fish and Game en­vi­ron­men­tal ad­viser Scott Pear­son said the whole col­lab­o­ra­tive process in its cur­rent form was bro­ken.

For­est and Bird has made a sim­i­lar move, say­ing di­vi­sions in the Hu­runui com­mu­nity be­tween farm­ing sup­port­ers and those con­cerned by it are not mir­rored in the com­mit­tee.

But En­vi­ron­ment Can­ter­bury (ECan) chair­man Steve Lown­des said en­vi­ron­men­tal views are ‘‘well-rep­re­sented’’ and urged them to keep con­tribut­ing.

The two groups are fight­ing plans to de­lay in­creases in min­i­mum wa­ter flows - lev­els which if flows fall be­low, irrigators can­not take wa­ter - on the Hu­runui River, in­tro­duced five years ago.

Amuri Ir­ri­ga­tion Com­pany (AIC) wants to in­ves­ti­gate build­ing a dam, say­ing to bring flow rules in now would fi­nan­cially shackle the com­pany and farm­ers. Un­der one op­tion, with AIC fund­ing an ‘‘enhancement pack­age’’ of en­vi­ron­men­tal mea­sures, new min­i­mum flows might not hap­pen un­til 2025.

The 12-per­son zone com­mit­tee has seven farm­ers, in­clud­ing Hu­runui District mayor Win­ton Dal­ley, coun­cil­lor Vin­cent Daly and an AIC di­rec­tor, James McCone.

Aside from a wa­ter man­age­ment pro­fes­sor and ECan coun­cil­lor Cynthia Roberts, an ecol­o­gist, no en­vi­ron­men­tal groups are rep­re­sented.

Writ­ing to Faulkner - him­self a farmer and share­holder in AIC - For­est and Bird con­ser­va­tion man­ager Jen Miller said the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s views were rou­tinely dis­missed by a zone com­mit­tee dom­i­nated by farm­ing in­ter­ests.

But Roberts urged the or­gan­i­sa­tions to stay in­volved, say­ing they of­fer a ‘‘valu­able per­spec­tive’’.

And Lown­des said farm­ers would be ‘‘most up­set’’ if they were not thought of as en­vi­ron­men­tal­ists.

‘‘This is a much more lib­eral world than I think (is be­ing) made out...The whole thing is pred­i­cated on good faith.’’

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