ECan ‘just a puppet to government bidding’

The Water Rights Trust in Canterbury is stepping up its rhetoric about irrigation.

The group is largely comprised of conservative businessmen and in the past has sought to engage in collaboration with rural interests.

But the latest newsletter expresses increasing disillusionment with the path taken by Environment Canterbury under its government-appointed commissioners.

“After submitting on TrustPower’s application to amend the Rakaia River Water Conservation Order we were disappointed that the commissioners recommended the application be accepted despite noting in their decision, ‘that the economic benefits have been exaggerated by witnesses for the applicant’.

“Tragically, the ledger still does not account for the huge environmental cost of land use intensification that will result from amending the Rakaia WCO.

“The minister for the environment and the canterbury earthquake recovery minister recently accepted the commissioners’ recommendation and ECan’s commissioner responsible for water, David Caygill, has claimed this as a key component of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy since ‘it will facilitate the use of water from the Rakaia River for irrigation’.

“Not surprisingly, last month the government announced that $80 million of funding was being provided in the first year as a bridging investor in regional water infrastructure development.

“Central Plains Water has also gained $5.75 million from the government’s Irrigation Acceleration Fund, which comes on top of the additional $5 million loan from Selwyn District Council.

“We keep asking the question – if these schemes will produce so much economic benefit, why aren’t they being industry funded instead of tax and ratepayer funded?”

Roger Young, a trustee of the Water Rights Trust, says the economic arguments are “dubious at best”.

The trust's submission on the Proposed Canterbury Land & Water Regional Plan highlights concern that the original priorities of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy are not being sufficiently reflected in the evolving planning documents and processes.

Trust members are concerned at the increasing use of publicly excluded meetings by Water Management Strategy zone committees when water quality is on the agenda.

“After the commissioners’ own recommendations for a mixed member governance model at ECan post-2013 were ignored by the government, we see ECan now as simply a puppet to the bidding of a government which appears determined to increase irrigation and intensive farming in Canterbury despite the first order priorities in the Canterbury Water Management Strategy.

“The slow pace of change behind the farm gate means that we will still have rising stocks of dirty water at a level that will haunt Cantabrians for decades,” Mr Young says.