Lindis Saga Another damning indictment at the Regional Council


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Commentary: Court case involving irrigators taking water from Central Otago’s Lindis River shows a major flaw in the way regional councils manage our precious freshwater, says Ray Grubb

Another week and yet another damning indictment of a regional council’s failure to fulfill its primary function – sustainably managing the country’s limited and precious natural resources such as freshwater.

Otago Fish & Game recently lost a High Court appeal against an environmental court ruling that allowed the Lindis River to be almost completely drained by irrigators, leaving only 8 percent of its flow low. This is essentially a death sentence for the Lindis, who will now be a mere trickle when they enter the Clutha.

In addition, it essentially facilitated the transfer of almost all of the river’s water to a title held by only 35 farmers in the region. If the Kiwis think that water in this country is a public resource, think again.

This result is the result of the Otago Regional Council (ORC) shoddy body of water that has failed all parties – Fish & Game and irrigators – for many decades. If there is one thing litigants agree on in the aftermath of the legal battle, it is this fact.

Outgoing councilor and farmer Gary Kelliher accused Fish & Game of not wanting to compromise. Kelliher irrigates using a reputable permit in another watershed. He has previously been found in conflict over a water management issue related to reputable permits and has not taken part in some decisions. His remarks are symptomatic of conflicts of interest within many regional councils.

Also, when only 8 percent of the river is left after irrigation, what can be compromised?

Longtime former ORC chief executive Graeme Martin, who ended up jumping ship to later chair the Lindis Watershed Irrigation Lobby, made his feelings clear about the fight for water when he told the media that he was “ashamed” to work for the regional council and that the battle over the flow of the river was “a scandal”.

Ironically, Mr. Martin was overseeing the ORC during the development of the water body. This has led to long litigation and dismal results for this magnificent waterway and trout fishing.

But his summary of “scandal” is indeed appropriate. Look no further than the three current or past environmental court judges who recently found that the water body made virtually no effort to manage water volumes, provided no guidance on environmental outcomes, and was not suitable for the purpose.

While the government’s updated National Policy Statement (NPS) on freshwater management clearly prioritizes the needs of the river, it is sadly too late for the Lindis. However, it is predicted that with the new NPS planning framework, the level of disregard we have seen for the health of the Lindis River will never happen again.

What this sad saga illustrates, once again, is a fundamental failure of regional councils and local authorities to manage natural resources in a sustainable manner.

As in the case of Lindis, the problem stems from the demand for intensified agriculture in some of the driest parts of the country, so ill-suited to such land use, by taking the public water resource.

The Lindis’ irrigators claim to be “conservators” of the waterway, but those words ring hollow when they fought to keep so little water in the river. Let’s be honest, this is purely a matter of economics, and private profit for the few has been firmly placed before the environment and the needs of future generations.

Across the country we are seeing this repeat itself. The underlying problem is that we invariably have vested interests that dominate council policy and dictate lines of work that focus primarily on stimulating trade and economic growth, in direct violation of the guiding principles of the Resource. Management Act (RMA) – that is, the sustainable management of natural resources.

The system is down, and it needs to be fixed.

Fortunately, there is an opportunity to remedy this blatant injustice through the Government’s Natural and Built Environments Act, the proposed legislation to replace the RMA which is currently under consultation. We look forward to the final draft.

Meanwhile, a handful of irrigators have launched unfair and unfounded attacks on Otago Fish & Game for simply trying to keep the Lindis River flowing. If Fish & Game had been successful, there would have been more flow for sport fish, native species, recreational users, and the river itself. A river inherently deserves protection.

It is clear that some people want to deprive Fish & Game of the advocacy capacity because some of the species we represent are introduced.

They should be especially wary of throwing stones from talons when they accuse Fish & Game of “taking advantage” of introduced animals – we both deal with introduced species, however funds generated by Fish & Game are used to defend the animal. environment, not to extract from it. . It would be unwise for some to engage in a debate on comparative environmental footprints.

When other games failed at the Lindis, Fish & Game defended the river. Fish & Game will continue to stand up for the environment, for better water quality and better flows in our rivers – our licensees expect nothing less.

Elna M. Lemons