The Tasman District Council has been sharply criticised for its plan to allow even more water to be taken from the Motueka River, despite widespread community opposition.
The council has now approved the controversial proposal known as Plan Change 52 – and is now just waiting for a final signoff.
Fish & Game is aghast at the move, saying it flies in the face of community opposition and the process has been a “debacle.”
“The Motueka is a fabulous river treasured by locals who want to see its values properly managed.
“We have all been trying to work constructively with the Tasman District Council but it’s ignored the concerns of a huge section of the community,” says Fish & Game’s Nelson-Marlborough Regional Manager Rhys Barrier.
“It isn’t often that landowners, existing irrigators and Fish & Game staff are all on the same opposition page but that’s what Tasman District Council has managed to achieve with its short-sighted approach to water planning.
“One would have thought that after the historic Waimea Plains over-allocation of water, the Council would have learned to proceed with caution,” says Mr Barrier.
“As an affected party, Fish & Game is not opposed to further water allocation at higher flows, however the present low flow rationing regime for the Upper Motueka River is woefully inadequate.”
It is our view that good water planning should determine first and foremost a river’s low flow needs to adequately protect its values, before proceeding with any further water allocation.
While the low flow needs of the Motueka River below the Wangapeka confluence are well protected by a Water Conservation Order, the Upper Motueka River affected by Plan Change 52 is not protected for summer low flows by this Order, says Mr Barrier.
“This unprotected section of the river provides a vital link between the protected headwater spawning streams and mid-lower WCO-protected reaches of the Motueka River.
“It is critical the Council now protect it properly through its own planning processes.
While past concerns over unsustainable river engineering practices on the Upper Motueka have thankfully been resolved with Tasman District Council, low flow management is still a major outstanding issue of concern to Fish & Game that is failing to be addressed.
The Motueka River is famed around the world for its scenic beauty and trout fishing, and is one of only a handful of New Zealand waters to have been granted a Water Conservation Order – the equivalent of National Park status for a waterway.
The river is also recognised for providing valuable wildlife habitat, as well as having cultural, recreational and landscape importance.
“What we see now is a once trusted local authority, with good environmental integrity, sadly being hugely influenced by commercial pressure for water to the stage where we’ve basically lost confidence in them.
“Unfortunately, it's symptomatic of what’s happening in many rural councils right around New Zealand,” Mr Barrier says.
Rhys Barrier says Tasman District Council could learn how to properly assess a rivers ecological needs from its immediate neighbour, Nelson City Council.
“Unlike Tasman, Nelson City did such a good job in assessing and providing for the future ecological health of the Maitai River, that Fish & Game supported their application to re-consent the City’s water supply dam.”
Mr Barrier says the only solution to the unthinking exploitation and spoiling of rivers is for the Government to beef up the national policy statement on freshwater.
“It must set bottom lines for quality and flows that regional councils must comply with and indeed the public are crying out for better river management.”
“Until that happens, councils like Tasman are going to continue riding roughshod over their communities and squander one of our most precious assets,” Mr Barrier says.
“Our grandchildren will be appalled to look back in history and see how quickly we trashed our most precious natural asset for the sake of short term economic growth.”