Anyone affected by water policy here in Hawke’s Bay — and that’s all of us! — should reflect on this recent series of headlines from the Manawatu Standard, where the two most senior staffers responsible for water quality have recently resigned … (better still, click and read the articles)

River battler quits council (“The man at the forefront of the battle against people polluting the region’s waterways has quit Horizons Regional Council at the height of public debate over the state of the Manawatu River.”)

Editorial: Departure is reason for alarm (“The fate of the river doesn’t rest with one man, but the departure of Mr Carlyon doesn’t exactly give rise to hope that the health of the river will soon improve. The Manawatu River Accord is in trouble. It has been undermined by both the city and regional councils.”)

Horizons losing its way (Said the former top enforcement officer, Greg Carlyon: “It’s a massive challenge to have industry, farming and urban population and have a clean river … It’s one that the politicians won’t go near. Can we have environment and economy? At some scale, yes you can, some cockies have it. But the science is there that our current practices will not deliver both.”

Horizons accused of losing nerve (said also resigned water quality and biodiversity manager Alistair Beveridge: “We are on the brink of setting the region up as an example to other regional councils and we seem to have lost our courage to lead and make the hard decisions … I think the council is misreading the concern the community has for water quality … No-one is asking the community what it wants and what it holds important and how much it is prepared to pay for it.”

The DomPost summed up this protest in an excellent article …

River health waits on brave leaders (Quoting Carlyon: “…what they’re about is trying to reconcile whether we can have our cake and eat it too – protect and sustain our environment and grow the economy. And it’s politically easy to say ‘yes, we can have that’ when I don’t see evidence that demonstrates it is possible. The reality is that we’re consuming natural capital, which is the cheapest resource we’ll ever have, at a rate that we won’t be able to draw down in the future.”

What’s the relevance of all this to Hawke’s Bay and our Regional Council?

1. Our Regional Council faces the same pressures in every major river catchment in the Bay, and is responding in slow motion, desperate to appease economic interests along the way. Letting dairy farmers (Taharua/Mohaka Rivers); a major corporate, AFFCO (Wairoa River); and a local council, CHB (Tukituki River) get away with gross pollution along the way.

2. HBRC’s top enforcement officer recently resigned, presumably to advance his career overseas. As simple as that?

3. His replacement is Iain Maxwell, a former HB regional manager for Fish & Game. With no previous council experience, he takes his position in early November, in the midst of numerous pending water policy decisions that will weigh environmental against economic impacts.

Despite Maxwell’s Fish & Game background, local conservationists are wary of the appointment. Clearly he will need to prove his backbone in protecting environmental standards against the strong predisposition at HBRC at the Councillor and CEO level to cater to economic interests. Let’s hope he will prove to be a champion of the sound — and cautionary — science that occasionally surfaces from the staff he inherits.

For all the ostensible stakeholders’ ‘consensus’ that HBRC seeks to engineer, hugely important value choices loom ahead for the public to make. As the DomPost reports of jobless Greg Carlyon:

“A common view he hears behind closed doors is that the country should accept a degradation of water quality so the economy can grow. ‘Naturally, I don’t accept that, but it is a fair and reasonable proposition. I just wish those parties would say that out loud to the community so we as a society can confront the issue. But that courage doesn’t exist once the doors are open’.”

Amen! Watch this space.

Tom Belford

P.S. Mark your calendar for a 9 November, 7pm Water Forum that BayBuzz and others are sponsoring at Lindisfarne College. Diverse viewpoints. Details to follow.

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2 Comments

  1. Indeed … But this wouldn't happen in the Hawkes Bay Tom, where the 'clean green' image is seen as an imperative for our economic future – albeit that the viability of the green industries may just depend on a mobile minimal wage (or less, if it can be engineered) workforce.

    Where our Regional Council's chief scientist (Servitude-Jones) is a water man … mind you, this of course may mean the current pressure on 'water health' is an artefact of his specialty… of overseeing the purchase of instruments that measure this, so who knows, he may just be to blame for this focus.

    Again, however, of far greater importance is the air quality, for which the Regional Council still does not have sufficient measuring equipment nor any intention to purchase such. With such a high frequency of respiratory (and related) health issues in the Hawkes Bay, to permit the widespread use of unconfineable respiratory irritants that have been 'grandfathered' through (health effects not tested) is inexcusable. Further, to permit the use of bacteria, again on a wide spread basis as a pesticide, after the outcry about the health effects when this was widely used to curtail the gypsy moth infestation in Auckland is similarly inexcusable.

    The last two seasons bacillis subtilis has been discernible in the Tukituki – inexcusable.

    One suspects the role of the Regional Council is to protect the environment, and surprise, surprise, the health and well being of of the local population is an implict part of that – not simply to make token gestures and express 'regret' when the collateral damage from their misguided attempts to 'maintain a third world economic base' becomes too great.

    Measurably clean air and water should be a given – obfuscation and 'skirting around' about this is inexcusable and dangerous.

  2. Tom, the articles in the Manawatu Standard are 'standard' for the New Zealand political (read council) frame of mind. Politics have far greater influence on policies and their enforcement than science.

    The Manawatu, with Massey Uni's Mike Joy keeping a sharp eye on the even declining water quality, will have been an extremely difficult place for Greg Carlyon to work in. As in HBRC with many primary production related councillors, who is there to give a clear directive to protect our environment?

    On a recent China – New Zealand workshop where I presented data on contaminated land and on issues relating to E-Waste, I was very surprised to find our ministry presenting on eco-toxicological soil and water guideline levels, as NZ doesn't have any and will be many, many years off having any. Many of our 'developing countries' trading partners (like Korea) have such guidelines for years already, however NZ seems to be able to skirt around the issue, living its 'Clean and Green Dream'.

    On E-Waste issues, which were presented to the Chinese delegates truthfully, some senior Ministry for the Environment staff is now under disciplinary investigation as the higher levels in that establishment deemed that the problems revealed should have stayed (or been sweeped) under the carpet. A very unfortunate development as for once NZ was in a position to lead the countries who are part of the Stockholm and Basel convention as innovative research was carried out by MfE.

    However, just like in 1990 when the chapter on historical contamination present in the Resource Management Bill was lost on the evening this Bill became an Act, we (NZ) have again chosen to stick our head in the sand. This means other nations will forge ahead and find solutions to these problems, solutions we then can (or have to) import, rather having developed them ourselves and being able to export them. Like Sir Paul Callaghan said in his book From Wool to Weta and in numerous talks: "we have to upskill our exports" (my interpretation). By denying problems we will not see adequate resources being made available to address these, and thus we deny our 'Kiwi Ingenuity' to find a solution.

    To improve surface water quality long term there are two main steps: 1. stop the nitrate and phosphate leaking into the rivers and lakes – an clear and obvious solution, simple to implement and control (i.e. 'police' – given political will power to provide mandate), and 2. to mitigate these contaminants in groundwater as they have accumulated for tens of years and will be entering our rivers and stream for a similar or longer period of time. Solutions for this are available and I have implemented them in Europe, where, surprise, surprise, the Ag industry has had similar devastating effects on water quality 20 years ago and by recognizing and accepting the problem, a economic atmosphere was created to develop solutions.

    If we in NZ keep denying we have a problem, we will keep our No. 8 wire innovators from thinking about solutions, as there is no incentive, worse, we will keep loosing enforcement staff like Greg Carlyon who could play a pivotal role in this.

    As long as we read sneering remarks to forefront scientists like Dr Mike Joy of Massey University by Dr William Rolleston, Federated Farmers Vice-President, in his speech to the New Zealand Institute of Agricultural & Horticultural Science in Wellington on 4 October 2011 who said: " So, if there is a plea to the scientific community it is for more and better communication. But remember, collaboration does not mean complicity. Where is our 'Dr Mike Joy' I need to ask? People who passionately believe there are real improvements in farming, because we aren't looking for sycophancy, only balance to what is a one-sided debate. This needs your engagement."

    However any time the scientific community does engage it is ridiculed – like here. So, Tom, NZ is a third world economy, where industry and profits far overrule the environment, even to the detriment of developing environmental systems which we can export. We will have a long way to go from Wool to Weta as the political will power is with wool, milk and logs, certainly not with the Weta be it in bits and bytes or as an environmental issue.

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