For all practical purposes, that should be the headline for the HB Regional Council’s recent failure to protect the Tuki from excess water wthdrawals.
As we reported last week, instead of having the guts to stand up to a handful of dairy farmers, an HBRC-appointed hearings committee consisting of Regional Council deputy chair Christine Scott and former Councillors Alec Olsen and Adrienne Williams awarded rights to draw 215,000 cubic meters of water per week from these rivers for five years. What RMA were they reading?! Why not just sell farmers the Tuki and forget about it?
Utterly mindless. The hearings committee members should be forced to swim in the Tuki next February or March!
The decision of these three individuals squanders a resource absolutely essential to any sustainable future for HB, and undermines the rights of existing downstream consent holders. Their decision will be appealed to the Environment Court by Fish & Game NZ, among others, once again placing a burden on environmentalists to protect the Bay’s natural resources … a responsibility the Council itself should have shouldered.
In a fortuitous bit of timing, last night Sustaining HB Trust hosted a presentation by one of NZ’s foremost water quality experts, Massey’s Dr. Mike Joy. Mike explained just how bad-off our rivers are … and even worse, how inadequately they are defended by regional councils throughout New Zealand, as well as central government.
His robust critique included:
- the absence of a national standard for freshwater quality;
- a dearth of qualified scientific staff both in regional councils and the Ministry of the Environment;
- weak enforcement of existing consents by councils (coupled with puny penalties for violators);
- use of scientifically unsound sampling methods to support policy-making;
- misrepresentation by MfE and regional councils of the true state of water quality; and,
- failure to adequately value and weigh the true costs of environmental degradation when making local consent and policy decisions.
On hand to get this message were Mayor Yule (importantly for this issue, he is now also President of Local Government NZ … affording him the opportunity to press for more scientifically-grounded, consistent and aggressive regional council water protection), HBRC Chairman Rex McIntyre (who again called upon us to be patient), and MP Craig Foss (whose boss, John Key, wants to “reform” the RMA), as well as Councillors Anne Wilson (HDC) and Liz Remmerswall (HBRC).
Dr. Joy backed up his critique with data of his own. Especially disturbing were the facts regarding non-enforcement of existing resource consents involving freshwater protection. A study in 2003-4 found that only 60% of consent requirements were monitored by regional governments, and of those, 26% were violated, translating into 9167 breeches. Of those, only 8 violations were prosecuted!
Dr. Joy’s critique is grim. Unfortunately, with its recent decision to give away precious Tuki water to dairy farmers, the HBRC seems determined to become the poster child illustrating that he is correct. Say it ain’t so, Rex!