Russel Norman

Erosion of environmental representation at ECan

by Russel Norman

And so it begins… Forest and Bird revealed yesterday that the first local committee set up under the new ECan structure to consider the future of the Hurunui and Waiau river catchments was unlikely to have any members representing environmental concerns.

I wish I could say I’m surprised, but with the Government’s not-so-hidden agenda for Canterbury’s water – signalled by the PM in his opening speech to Parliament and promptly acted-upon with the passing under urgency of the terrible ECan Act – the writing has been on the wall for a while.

However, I understand that since Forest and Bird’s release, the nomination process for the committee has conveniently been delayed and the shortlist extended. Funny that!

Perhaps some of the environmental representatives who applied to be on the committee and were turned down, despite the fact that the terms of reference ask for representation from biodiversity or conservation interests as well as irrigation interests, will now be getting a call-back.

Nevertheless, even if a biodiversity expert is hurriedly appointed, they will still be a lone voice on a committee with ample representation for irrigation interests, developers, and agribusinesses.

The implications of this are serious. Among other things, the zone committee will consider the contested Hurunui Water Project, which plans to dam one of our last remaining wild rivers for an irrigation scheme. Environmental groups have applied for a Water Conservation Order on the river that would prevent this, but the entire Water Conservation Order mechanism and process in Canterbury has been severely weakened by the ECan Act

The Hurunui and Waiau zone committee is the first of ten zone committees like this to be set up to implement the Canterbury Water Management Strategy. Nominations are also being called for the overarching Regional Water Management Committee. Hopefully Forest and Bird’s good work on this issue means the commissioners will be more diligent about ensuring environmental interests are represented on these committees in future.

Meanwhile the good people of Canterbury are gearing up for another big event to show their concern about water and democracy issues their region: 3pm in Cathedral Square on 13 June. See you there!