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.’’