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Did Minister Parker mislead Cabinet, and where are the Greens?

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

70% of New Zealand’s surface water take is allocated to Meridian’s Manapouri Power Scheme. But when Environment Minister David Parker asked to exempt the Scheme from his Freshwater Action Plan, he didn’t tell Cabinet that. Unlike most hydro-schemes, the water used by Manapouri is never returned to the Waiau Catchment. Instead, up to 95% of the Waiau River’s flow is discharged to Deep Cove by the 51% Government-owned Scheme. When asked whether this was taken into account in the impact analysis, Martin Workman, Director of Water at the Ministry for the Environment, said that he, "doesn’t have the answer".

The Ministry’s report reveals talks with Meridian about the exemption began in November 2018, the same month Meridian failed to have the Waiau Rivercare Group - which advocates for the health of the Waiau River - struck out at Environment Court. Paul Marshall, co-chair of the Waiau Rivercare Group said the community felt, "marginalised", and that "MfE’s report writes us off as ‘Not Applicable’".

Marshall asked Workman at a Winton public meeting what prospect there was to argue for what the Waiau River desperately needs, "just a little more water". Workman responded that the proposal is about how we ensure the "lights don’t go out" while maintaining and improving water quality in the Waiau. But is it really that dire?

Claire Jordan, a Planner and Environmental Scientist in the Rivercare Group, told Kathryn Ryan on ‘9 to Noon’ that the science available suggests a minimum flow of 35 cumecs would provide for the ecological health of the river. "To put that in context, we get 16 cumecs at the moment, the difference is about 3% of the 550 cumecs Meridian is consented to use for power generation," she said.

Jordan is concerned the Government’s exemption could actually worsen water quality in the Waiau River, as even the current minimum flows and flushing flows are not protected. "How the flow varies over time is critical to river health," she said. In contrast, Minister Parker told Cabinet that, "proposed exceptions will not lead to declines in water quality".

Peter Horrell, co-chair of the Waiau Rivercare Group says that, "If these proposals are really about protecting waterways, then the Waiau River needs 35 cumecs now, while the science is updated". "Where are the Greens on this issue?" Horrell asked.

Horrell stresses the need to remove the exemption for Meridian. "We need a meaningful conversation about how hydro-generation and ecological health can co-exist in the Waiau Catchment, and that can’t happen if the rules don’t apply to Meridian". Horrell said the Minister needs to "come down and talk to iwi and the community" about their aspirations for the health of the Waiau River. "The awa cannot wait" he said. A public meeting about community aspirations for the Waiau River is being held in Tuatapere on Thursday evening as part of Environment Southland’s Regional Forum.

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