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Ruataniwha Redux

Here is my post from 18 October 2013 when the whole situation changed in regard to the Committee of Inquiry into the Ruataniwha development. The Committee required the basis for the scientific evidence presented by the proponents to be made available to Fish & Game who following the withdrawal of DoC from the proceedings were acting as the sole check on what was being proposed.

I suggested at the time that this decision had changed the whole course of the Inquiry, and may give heart to those who were concerned at the course of events that have been taking place place here in relation to the Wilson's Bay Aquaculture Inquiry. The reason was that the Fish & Game scientists were thus enabled to refute much of the evidence that had been presented by the proponent witneses, and the Committee finally accepted their arguments.  

The subsequent interim decision, and the all-important conditions handed down in April this year came as a bombshell to the farming interests, and their Regional Council supporters, when they realised that the recommended maximum levels of nitrogen  could be no greater than are currently being achieved. The proponents had wanted  a level of 3.8% which all agree was the level of toxicity to 20% of the fish species in the Tukituki River.

The decision required the level of nutrients entering the river to be controlled at a level that assured its "ecological" health - the 0.8mg per litre favoured by Fish & Game - a level already exceeded at certain monitoring points.

This was a devastating condition for the proponents because the decision can only really be challenged on points of law, and detail - the decision itself is sacrosanct. That is, until John Key announced last week that the Government intends to run a referendum at this year's election regarding changes to the Resource Management Act designed to give economic considerations equal billing with environmental factors when these inquiries are undertaken. This is a fundamental change about which everyone who is concerned about the environment should take very close note.

It was a certainty that this Government would be unlikely to accept the Ruataniwha decision lying down - it has too much at stake in regard to its rural growth projections for the next few years, and its rural support base is devastated by the decision. It now seems certain that the full weight of the Government's publicity machine will be brought to bear on achieving the required result in October.

Rebecca Macfie's article in the 31 May Listener is probably the best unbiased summary of the situation that is currently available. Rebecca pulls no punches, but outlines both sides of the argument in a very fair manner. I have nailed my flag to the mast on this issue long ago, so make no attempt to do the same - I happen to believe that it is the major issue facing the country that has implications far beyond the current understanding of most of the population who I suspect will now be subjected to a raft of irrelevant propaganda leading up to the Election. 

Ms Macfie has nailed the situation in Mid-Canterbury where in the absence of an elected, if dysfunctional E Can Regional Council, the horse has bolted, and in the interests of encouraging wealth beyond the dreams of most of its farmers, its rivers are now not only approaching toxic, but aquifers are irretrievably following this trend. The statistics are frightening, while the streets of Ashburton are becoming lined with gold - 'Fool's Gold'.

"On the dry east coast of the North Island, civic and farming leaders want what Ashburton has,........ and they do not want environmental rules that stand in the way" and "Many have returned from visits south wide-eyed with stories of sensational wealth, and they want the same for their region." 

The problem for the Government is that the decision in effect sets the benchmark that other proposals will need to meet - and there are plenty of them. The 25,000ha Ruataniwha scheme is mirrored by at least 10 other schemes up and down the country both larger and smaller, and with varying environmental implications and that all rely on funding to some degree from the Government's Crown Irrigation Investments which has $400m tagged for these schemes over the next few years. It is the prime vehicle aimed at achieving the Government's growth projections beyond any other - a sort of 'Think Big" by another name. 

The dilemma for the Government is that its National Objectives Framework establishes 'run-off' guidelines that fundamentally in conflict with the decision handed down at Ruataniwha, and the fall-out elsewhere is just being digested. John Key's referendum announcement is clearly designed to forestall the reaction in the provinces that could have played out as a regional election issue of some importance.

Just to give some perspective to this argument, Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Jan Wright has indicated that the these proposals would allow for levels of nitrate toxicity 10 times the current median concentration in the lower reaches of the Waikato River. Just contemplate that for a moment - that is the level of greed and entitlement that elements within our government, and farming interests are prepared to tolerate in order to achieve ultimate wealth through a vastly expanded dairying industry.




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Reader Comments (1)

The rhetoric from the PM was ominous and am surprised that more comment was not made on this matter. To suggest that a process could be overturned because it was inconvenient for government policy would truly put us int the banana republic class.

Putting aside the environmental issues of disrupted river flows, compromised instream values, irrigation and consequential and increased stocking rates leading to nutrient tsunami the economics have never stacked up. Trustpower withdrew from this proposal before the draft decision came out as their was no sutainable business case.

End of story.

Now apparently the rhetoric is the EPA Board decision alone has made this project uneconomic. The remedy is to "reform" the RMA to allow for economic development at the expense of the environment. Environmental bottom lines are no longer sacrosanct but are to be considered as just another factor.

We had the same lament when Project Aqua was canned. The refrain from Meridian at the time was that environmental concerns has blocked a perfectly good economic project that would have benficial to the whole country. The RMA is a road block to making money.

This disingenuous tripe conveniently ignored the fact the project costs were going to blow out due to geotechnical factors. Liquefaction was found to be major risk and Meridian could not get out of there fast enough, but were unwilling to clarify the real reason given they thought the RMA bashing might help them later down the track. Plus it covered some major blushes for the expenditure that has occurred.

I imagine it it has gone ahead and just few years later there was a major earthquake in the region…nah it would never happen.

June 1, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeter

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