As the environmental challenges confronting Hawke’s Bay multiply and get more complex, our Councils will need to work harder and harder to master the technical issues, understand the economic dimensions, and bring competing aspirations into a sustainable balance.

Most important is that our decision-makers do not fall into the trap of viewing protecting our natural resources and environment as a trade-off against economic prosperity. Indeed, here is a definition of “prosperity” that we here in the Bay would do well to adopt: “our ability to flourish as human beings – within the ecological limits of a finite planet.”

The simple bottom line is that any successful strategy for the securing the prosperity of NZ — and certainly of our own primary production and tourism-based region — depends on prudent, sustainable management of the natural resources and ecosystems that underpin and service our economic activity. This should be a no-brainer.

Hopefully our Councils will come to that awareness.

Meantime, here’s a selection of environmental issues that will confront our Councils over the next term. Did you hear much of this discussed during the recent campaigns? I think not.

While the Regional Council will bear the heaviest load, the Hastings and Napier Councils carry a fair share as well.

For the Regional Council …

  • Re-write of the Regional Resource Management Plan — the RRMP is the basic environmental rulebook for the Bay. It will be substantially updated during the next Council term. Here’s where tough standards and expectations will be written into enforceable form for the long term … or not.
  • Water harvesting and storage in Central Hawke’s Bay (and perhaps in the Ngararouro River catchment as well) — massive study is underway. Will it be technically feasible, economically viable, AND environmentally acceptable?
  • CHB sewage treatment upgrade — some effluent will go on land, but some will still flow into the Tukituki … how much and under what conditions?
  • Land use intensification — we want to grow the Bay’s farming economy. But is the HBRC’s land care staff up to the task of “selling” more sustainable and soil-enhancing farming practices to farmers? And will farmers “buy” it?
  • Adoption of Maori co-governance scheme for natural resource decision-making — there’s a new equal partner coming to town, who will be actively engaged in resource planning and policy-making. Undoubtedly there will be birthing pains for the new arrangement.
  • Resolution of Taharua catchment dairying pollution — how long will it take HBRC to do what obviously needs to be done to curb damaging land use practices?
  • Ending AFFCO’s massive pollution of the Wairoa River.
  • Implementation of PM10 air pollution standard — can reduction of this health-damaging pollution be accelerated?
  • Environmental vision in HBRC’s future scenarios — alternative long-term growth scenarios formulated by HBRC will become public in November … what environmental future will they paint?
  • HBRC response to National Land & Water Forum report — more than a regional talkfest will be required to address the critique and recommendations in this landmark report.
  • Ongoing monitoring of HBRC’s day-to-day management of water supply and quality – awarding of water takes, metering of water use, protecting water quality, maintenance of water ecosystem health.
  • Resisting introduction of GMOs into Hawke’s Bay.

For Hastings Council …

  • Ensure adequacy of Hastings sewage treatment scheme — what effluent is actually going into the Bay, and how much? With what consequences?
  • Ensure Hastings compliance with new stormwater discharge consent — will HDC live up to the tough regime newly imposed by HBRC?
  • Secure drinking water for Havelock North from environmentally benign source.
  • Confirm a plan for addressing Haumoana coastal erosion — the time for Council tap dancing is over … is HDC supporting the beach community or not?
  • Curtail HDC-sanctioned foul discharge directly onto Waimarama Beach.
  • Monitor environmental impact aspects during the scheduled re-write of the Hastings District Plan.
  • Address issues raised by recently-issued HDC State of the Environment Report.

For Napier Council …

  • Napier must get a consent for its planned sewage disposal scheme — maybe HBRC will ask the tough questions it failed to ask Hastings, who is using the same system … with all the problems we’ve heard about.
  • Pursue better solution to Westshore erosion — NCC is on a track doomed to fail.
  • Address stormwater run-off into the Ahuriri estuary.

For District Health Board …

  • Examine public health impacts of agricultural chemical use.
  • Play more proactive role on other environmental health issues, like air and water quality.

From Wellington …

The following central government initiatives, each with major repercussions in Hawke’s Bay — and councils’ advocacy on them — must be monitored and lobbied, where appropriate:

  • Proposed National Environmental Standard (NES) for on-site wastewater systems.
  • Central government study & proposed NES on soil contamination.
  • Central government response to the recommendations of the Land and Water Forum.
  • Proposed NES on freshwater management.
  • Proposed low flow standards protecting freshwater ecosystems.
  • Any new or expanded roles and powers for new Environmental Protection Agency.

General …

  • Promote eco-tourism in the region — needs more development and marketing emphasis.
  • Rationalize Councils’ spend on environmental education — each Council throws ratepayers’ money at the wall … does any of it stick?
  • Support for key DOC conservation/biodiversity projects in our region — important work that needs more visibility and support.
  • Protect the independence of environmental decision-making in any efforts to amalgamate councils.
  • Educate/lobby MPs on national and regional environmental issues — for example, the economic value of “green”.
  • Encourage mind-set change for area businesses and councils with respect to incorrectly perceived environment versus economy trade-off.

These issues would be addressed best if there were strong and effective environmental advocates amongst the Councillors themselves – can you name any? And if the Councils pursued these matters in a coordinated way – but history to date says: Yeah, right!

And how will the public interest be represented in this blizzard of issues and decision-making? Surely not by the handful of environmental and conservation voices that presently attempt to monitor, submit and advocate on a “catch as catch can” basis. As it stands, activists are too few, stretched paper thin, poorly resourced (and that’s an under-statement), disorganized, non-strategic, and too docile given the huge stakes involved.

The environmental “movement” in Hawke’s Bay needs some amalgamation of its own! We have a substantial base. Otherwise Liz Remmerswaal wouldn’t get 10,346 votes; nor would I get 8,607 votes. We need to tap into this base on a far more – dare I say it – sustainable basis!

Otherwise, it’s going to be a tough three years for the region’s environment.

Sidebar Copy

Recently, Al Morrison, director-general of the Department of Conservation — our senior public service conservationist, but no wild-eyed zealot — gave a remarkable speech, Building Biodiversity: Building New Zealand, about the profound linkage between NZ’s natural resources and ecosystems and our economic viability.

Morrison offers his thoughts as to why this linkage has not yet been embraced by sufficient numbers of our politicians and businesses. He argues that we must add to the purely moral dimension (which hasn’t proven to be enough), the economic imperative. A few excerpts …

We are degrading ecosystems and destroying species to a point where the services that nature provides, that we rely on for our sustenance, and that determine our prosperity, are being run down and out. If we are to save ourselves from ourselves, then appealing to the intrinsic value of nature is not enough. It is not a matter of giving up that sense of awesome wonder, but rather adding to that, an argument designed to compel the uncommitted. Unseemly though it may seem to nature lovers, we have to appeal at a less lofty level.

***

Our economy is dangerously exposed, seriously out of balance, and facing huge adjustments. And the prospect of getting back in to balance is a distant one. That’s bad news for those of us who think there is an urgent need to invest much more in conservation and good environmental management, because the received wisdom is that it’s only strong economies that can afford a clean environment.

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Protecting our biodiversity, which means maintaining the ecological integrity of the places our native plants, birds, animals, freshwater and marine species need to survive, is the sleeping giant of the conservation economy.

New Zealand doesn’t have a brilliant track record. That we are relatively Clean and Green and 100 Percent Pure, is little credit to our deliberate efforts. The brand is largely available to us because we have had relatively little time and few people to mark our footprint over the entire land.

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Nature’s systems are finite and we are using them to a point that there is a supply and demand problem. And we are exacerbating the problem by mismanaging and destroying the ecosystems that we rely on to supply those critical services. Technical solutions can stave off some of the problems for some of the time; storage dams, flood protection measures and so on. But at our current rate of biodiversity destruction, something has to give at some point.

***

It may seem crass to say that climate change and its big cousin, biodiversity loss, create a potential competitive advantage for New Zealand. But connecting the ethics and the self-interest; intrinsic value and economic benefits, helps us better understand that sustainable management of natural resources is not just about nice things to do when time and discretionary resources are available. It is a necessary investment in the natural capital that sits at the base of our economy. Water, soil, air, nutrient cycles, climate regulation, pollination…these and other services are the natural capital we need to survive and prosper.

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The way we conventionally describe and measure economic progress is an incentive to ignore the impacts of unsustainable natural resource use and management, and capture the benefits and subsidies from that with a clear conscience. GDP can be measured in terms of income, expenditure, or production, but over time all three produce much the same result. None takes a systematic account of environmental impacts. Creating an environmental mess is good for GDP. It typically increases the immediate benefit for the developer by disguising true costs, and down the track the cost of cleaning up the mess generates further economic activity, usually at public expense.

Massive environmental subsidies are defined out of existence by labeling the costs as externalities and discounting them because they lie well in the future. We don’t talk about building up environmental debt in the same way as we talk about building up financial debt, and that stops us worrying about it. It’s a recipe for sleeping easy.

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