Archives for posts with tag: water

The Minister of the Environment, Dr Nick Smith, today announced plans for the future governance structure of the Canterbury Regional Council, commonly known as ECan. The elected council was sacked in 2010, following a report that found they had failed to achieve the Government’s objectives of converting the entirety of the Canterbury Plains into dairying. In their place, commissioners were appointed. Despite having 5 years to achieve the Government’s aims, the Commissioners have comprehensively failed their goals. A recent study found that just 36% of Canterbury’s fresh water was unsafe to drink, well below the Government’s aspirational goal of “no fresh water by 2020”. Another report from Lake Ellesmere / Te Waihora said that it took more than 25 minutes for a red-band gumboot to fully dissolve in the toxic water – over 5 minutes longer than the Government’s benchmark for acidic fresh water lakes. The Minister reiterated that the Government had set clear benchmarks for environmental degradation, and that ECan had repeatedly failed to meet them.

Dr Smith appeared at the news conference with his preferred appointment to run ECan, a GARDENA Classic Oscillating Sprinkler Polo 2500. GARDENA Classic will take over the role, following a Cabinet vote next Monday.

GARDENA Classic, the newly appointed ECan commissioner

Dr Smith said that GARDENA Classic was the obvious choice for the role. “She can spray water over here, she can spray water over there. That means that she takes turns between watering the farmers, and watering the latte-sipping townies. But if the townies keep piping up with these spurious complaints about voting and democracy, I am not afraid to adjust her range, so that she only sprays the farmers.” The Minister also highlighted the new Commissioner’s appeal to the younger generation. “In summer, we can put her down in the garden, and the kids can take turns running backwards and forwards through her. GARDENA Classic is the new, child-friendly face of ECan.”

Murray, a spokesperson for the activist group “Hippies Called Murray”, was disappointed with the appointment. “How can the Government claim to be acting in our best interests, when this is clearly just a stitch-up on behalf of Big Domestic Irrigation. I bet Bunning’s is behind this”, he said, before trailing off into a rant about the TPPA and Monsanto butter beans. When approached for comment, Buzz Babcock of the Confederated Farmers, South Canterbury Branch, gave a brisk “yee-haw!” before jumping through the window of his John Deere tractor and attempting to launch it over the south branch of the  Rangitata River.


In the Greatest Australian Movie of All Time (which I also referenced yesterday), the Kerrigan’s take their case to the highest court in the land. Inspired by those battling, fictional Aussies in The Castle, Labour has done the same. We think that what the National Government has done by removing our right to vote in regional council elections is wrong, but as it has been introduced via legislation, there is no court we can take it to in this country. So we’re taking it to the UN instead.

Two important UN treaties, the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, confirm that it is a human right that citizens have a say on the running of their country and take part in the conduct of public affairs.

I’ve been working with Conservation spokesperson Ruth Dyson and Justice spokesperson Andrew Little to write a letter to the relevant committee at the United Nations. Here is the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, of which New Zealand is a signatory. In the past, we have taken pride in our democracy, and our fight to preserve democracy around the world. But when our government has removed the rights of it’s own citizens, then we don’t have a leg to stand on when we try lecture other nations, like Fiji, about the need for democracy.

When your own government trashes the democratic rights of its people, there aren’t many places to go to seek redress, but the Human Rights committee of the UN is a place we can go to get the issue investigated, hence the letter written by my colleague and Labour’s Justice spokesperson Andrew Little.

Democracy is sometimes inconvenient, especially to those in power, but that’s the point. It is the basis of ensuring the interests of the powerful don’t ride roughshod over the powerless.

Today marks four years of the unelected commissioners running ECan. It is a black mark on the National Government, and New Zealand. We will be marking the occasion at the Cairn in Cathedral Square at 12:30 today, with Ruth Dyson and Russel Norman speaking about the importance of letting people manage their own resources and having the right to vote (more details here).

Labour will return the right of Canterbury people to elect their regional councillors immediately, but in the meantime it will help to have an independent external body judge whether our international rights have been breached.

I’ve got a guest post over at Public Address about the floods, and how the government can’t shirk the blame. You can read it here, or below.

As you will be well aware if you live in Christchurch and have tried to leave the house within the last 24 hours, we are in the midst of our third serious flooding incident this year. The natural risk for Christchurch has always been flooding – we are a low lying urban area in the middle of a flood plain. However, the quakes have obviously overshadowed the flood risks in the last few years. Now, the terrible repeat incidents, especially in the Flockton Cluster (which has, like liquefaction, EQC and TC3, quickly slotted into the post-quake vocabulary of the city) have brought the issues to the surface.

It is not only in Flockton, but also the low-lying areas of the Avon and the Heathcote rivers. My parents have lived at the same property in Hoon Hay / Halswell since the mid 70’s, and they have never seen flooding like the one they had last year. While they haven’t had the same surface water as in St Albans, their property is damper than I can ever remember it being. The quakes have compounded the issues; they have changed the ground levels, lower in some places, higher in others, as well as raising the river beds and filling the waterways up with silt. This has meant that the drainage network across wider Christchurch is as broken as our CBD is. The council needs to address this issue, but it is a complex one, and seems to be beyond their capacity at this point. Labour’s Earthquake Recovery spokesperson has acknowledged this yesterday:

It has to be a priority for the Council to now act over some of the suggestions that ratepayers and citizens have made over the past month in public meetings. So far the Council has not come back with any feedback on these suggestions.

There is also an interesting suggestion from Green MP Eugenie Sage, who would like to see a “blue zone”. This is probably a more long-term solution that would require intervention from the government. Before taking this step, it would be worth ensuring that all efforts to fixed the drainage of the area have be pursued. Trying to resolve the situation in Flockton by improving the drainage would be a better option, as it would allow people to stay in their own homes. It may also be a cheaper option for the council or the government than having to extend the residential buy out programme. These two response show that what Christchurch needs are both short-term and long-term fixes.

Last night, Paul Henry went on an extraordinary rant, placing all of the blame squarely at the sodden gumboots of Lianne Dalziel. Paul Henry knows about as much about the flooding situation in Christchurch as he does about race relations in India – i.e. nothing.  I’ve never watched his show before, but was prompted by this rant. It’s as though he thinks he is a “man of the people” like stable-mate John Campbell, except instead of standing up for the little guy, he’s pushing the line for the big guy – his mate, the Prime Minister. It is Danyl McLauchlan’s description of how the PM’s office feeds the bottom-feeder blogs, except on a grand scale.

He judiciously cuts together footage to serve his narrative, rather than the truth. When Lianne says that she is dividing the task force into two, he screams “what does that even mean?” Well, Paul, as the presenter on what is theoretically a news show, maybe you could have done some research. But in lieu of that, I’ll explain it. The task force has been divided into two teams, one to look at the short term solution, and one to look at the long term resolution. We need both. We can’t have people going through this again, so we have to find a short term solution. But we also need to know whether this situation can be mitigated, by improving the drainage, raising the houses, or partial red-zoning. This takes more investigation, and has more serious implications for people’s primary asset, their homes. It makes sense to take some time with this.

When Campbell Live caught the PM, he was at the Court Theatre, we he had been attending the announcement of the final allocation of funds from the Christchurch Earthquake Recovery Trust. This was the fund that got almost $100m of donations from around the country in the wake of the the quakes. The biggest of the final payouts was to the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra – worthy, perhaps, but certainly not doing much to help the people with 20cm of water in their living room – if they even have a living room.

Of course the real reason Key was in Canterbury was to deal with the most pressing water issue facing the community. No, not the flooding in the city, but turning the first sod on the controversial Central Plains Water Scheme.

This is the scheme that the National Party have removed a council*, amended the law, and given a taxpayer handout to ensure that dairy farmers could stand on their own two feet. If only the residents of the Flockton Basin were bovine, rather than human, then maybe the government would be turning sods to build a drainage scheme instead of an irrigation scheme. For Key to stare down the barrel of a camera and give his best “my hands are tied” speech beggars belief. His government has passed legislation giving Brownlee extraordinary powers to get things done in the city. They have removed the regional council so they can expedite the extraction of water in a rural setting. They have undermined the city council time after time on the rebuild of the CBD, and then intervened over building consents. No central government has intervened in the day-to-day running of a region more than this National government. For Key to pretend that he can’t do anything is one of the most laughable lies he has ever uttered.

At a water protest we held when the PM opened Nicky Wagner’s office on Bealey Ave back in 2010, I remember a conversation we had with Wagner’s husband, David. He insisted that irrigation was needed, as there was plenty of water but “it was just in the wrong place”. Apart from ignoring the anthropocentric view that there is a “right” place for water to fall, it is a somewhat ironic comment given that most of that water has now fallen on the electorate that his wife represents.

* tomorrow marks four – yes, four – years since the Government appointed commissioners started at ECan. If you are in Christchurch, we will be holding a memorial service to mourn our lack of democracy, at the Cairn in Cathedral Square. More details here.

One of Amy Adams’s major projects is the reform of the RMA. Rob Hosking has an interesting profile on her and her reforms. It’s worth considering the Federated Farmers response to these proposed changes. Here is a press release from about a year ago, when the change proposals were announced:

The proposed reform is closely aligned to Federated Farmers 2008 reform package.

Federated Farmers has for a long time tried to get the balance right between what the public wants to protect and what that means to someone who wants to use their land. The RMA in our view currently leans too far towards protection. Our members will welcome the proposed inclusion of “the benefits of the efficient use and development of natural and physical resources,” in a revised section 6.

A newly drafted section 7, focussing on the efficiency of council process, could require councils to consider “an appropriate balance between public and private interests in the use of land”. Every council should ask itself that same question every time a decision is made.

The changes that Adams is proposing are “closely aligned” to the reforms that Federated Farmers asked for in 2008. According to the Feds, the current RMA “leans too far towards protection” and they welcome wording which euphemistically refers to efficient use of resources, and the dropping of the phrase “the maintenance and enhancement of amenity values”. These proposed changes have been criticised as shifting the balance too far towards the economy, at the expense of the environment. One of the most prominent critics was no less than the Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment, Dr Jan Wright. Here is a joint release from 50 councils who submitted on the changes (ECan is notably absent from the group). The submission notes “strong concerns raised by the majority of submitters that proposed changes will harm the environment”. Forest and Bird weren’t exactly keen on it either:

The proposed weakening of the environmental safeguards in the Act’s purposes and principles are disappointing, unfounded and unrelated to the government’s objectives for simpler and consistent planning that leads to greater housing affordability.

Nor were Fish and Game, who commissioned Sir Geoffrey Palmer – the original architect of the RMA – to write a report on the changes.

In his report for the New Zealand Fish and Game Council, Sir Geoffrey’s expert analysis clearly shows that the Government’s proposed changes ‘will significantly and seriously weaken the ability of the RMA to protect the natural environment and its recreational enjoyment by all New Zealanders’

There is widespread opposition from a broad-range of groups about the impact that these changes will have on our environment. The common theme seems to be that these changes are designed to make it easier and faster to extract resources (read: water). So is the Minister of the Environment acting in the best interests of Federated Farmers, or herself? Or are they one and the same?

I was going to write a few more questions about the Amy Adams post from yesterday, but Rob Salmond at Polity has already covered most of what I was going to say – and included a handy flow chart! I recommend you pop over and check it out.

Yesterday, we discovered that Amy Adams owns part of Canterbury Plains Water, a firm that is running irrigation schemes in Canterbury. This is important because it reveals two potential paths through which Adams could use her public office to enrich herself, and her husband, and other family members. Those two paths are:

Through participating in government decisions that are explicitly about CPW; or
Through participating in government decisions about the management of freshwater resources in Canterbury. These affect the profitability of CPW and the value of its shares, which gives rise to a conflict of interest under the Cabinet Manual (2.61).

In addition to what Rob has brought up, there are a couple more questions I’d like answered. Was she at cabinet when the decision was made to create the Crown Irrigation scheme? Did she participate in discussions at a cabinet level about this policy which sees money from state asset sales given as a subsidy to irrigation schemes?

Adams is also leading the charge to gut streamline the Resource Management Act. What effects will these changes have on dairy farms? Will they make it easier or harder to get resource consent for taking water from rivers? What about consent to discharge effluent into waterways?

I think there are still a few outstanding questions here that should be easy enough for Minister Adams to answer if she is so adamant that this is nothing more than a smear campaign.

An investigation late last year by the Herald and Keith Ng showed that a number of MPs, mainly National MPs, happened to own a lot of farms. This isn’t anything new – National has always been the party that represents farmers. The head of Federated Farmers just happens to be the finance minister’s brother. However, the Minister of the Environment Amy Adams’ significant land holdings in mid-Canterbury may by affected by some of the decisions that her government has made on the environment.

Adams owns a number of properties, but the ones of most interest are in two blocks. The first is in 9 titles, at Charing Cross. It totals 1,992,440m2, and has a rateable value of $4,700,000. The second is at Darfield, is in one title of 502,154m2, and has a rateable value of $1,050,000. What is interesting about these two blocks is that they are both within the area to be covered by the Central Plains Water (CPW) scheme. This is a controversial project that will take water from the Rakaia River and use it to irrigate an area of the Canterbury Plains between the Rakaia and Hororata Rivers.

Water has been a controversial issue in Canterbury for most of the last decade, due to the rapid expansion of dairying, and the pressure this has placed on limited water resources. This of course boiled over when the newly-elected National government sacked the democratically elected ECan (Canterbury Regional Council) in 2010. The reasons given for this were that it was “dysfunctional”, but documents obtained under the Official Information Act by the Press show that this wasn’t about so-called dysfunction, but vested interests lobbying for greater access to water.

Further to this, when the bill went to parliament to replace the ECan council with commissioners, it also made it much easier for the Minister to amend a Water Conservation Order (WCO) in Canterbury. A WCO is often compared to a “national park” for a water way – it recognises the environmental, cultural and recreational significance of the body of water, and makes it more difficult for it to be exploited. WCOs are the domain of the Ministry of the Environment – not the regional council; by tacking this clause onto the bill which was nominally designed to resolve the “dysfunction” at ECan, the government showed what they were really trying to do. A WCO was placed on the Rakaia River in 1988 – the river which CPW needed to draw from to ensure the viability of their scheme. This was lifted in 2013.

Work on the CPW scheme is only just about to begin. One of the problems getting the scheme off the ground has been a lack of funding – this is a very expensive project. Luckily, the government decided to take $400 million from the “Future Investment Fund” (aka asset sales) and put it into an Irrigation Acceleration Fund, administered by the Ministry of Primary Industries. Crown Irrigation was launched by the former Minister, David Carter. The MPI says that Crown Irrigation was set up to fund “community irrigation”. Central Plains describes itself as “community irrigation” – despite it having a $375 million price tag. It’s also worth noting the similarities between the CPW and CII websites.

crown irrigation central plains

In September 2012, David Carter (Minister of Local Government) and Amy Adams (Minister of the Environment) fronted the press to explain that they were extending the reign of the ECan commissioners until 2016 (the 2010 bill said that there would be elections in 2013). They argued that it was needed because of the earthquakes, but Adams went on to talk about freshwater management:

”It is critical for New Zealand that the planning governance structure for Environment Canterbury is stable, effective and efficient. To keep the freshwater management work on track, we intend to retain the limited appeal rights on decisions made by Environment Canterbury on plans and policy statements relating to freshwater management.”

The 2010 share register of Central Plains Water Limited shows that a company called AMDON Farms Limited owned 801 shares in CPW, doubling to 1602 shares in 2011. Amy Adams is a director and co-owner of AMDON, along with her husband Robert “Don” Donald Adams. The CPWL register also shows that there are 7 other people with the surname Adams who have shares in the scheme and live in and around Greendale, some of whom are related to Amy and Don.

The Central Plains Water scheme would not have been viable if the National government had not passed the ECan bill in 2010. The value of land with access to water for irrigation is greater than land which does not. Adams owns a large amount of land which is within the CPW water scheme, and also owns shares in the scheme itself. It is difficult not to conclude that the actions of this government, including Adams and Carter, have benefitted their farming portfolios.

The government is considering banning farming from near major rivers. Great news! Except it’s not the government of clean, green, 100% Pure New Zealand – it’s China:

Mr Chen said the Chinese government is considering banning or restricting farming along China’s major rivers – as the effects of pollution are too severe. He said farming was a major cause of pollution and the pollution downstream effect was particularly exaggerated.

This government’s attitude to the environment seems to be completely ass-backwards; massive expansion of dairying, sold on the back of our “pure” reputation to a country that is more worried about water pollution than we are.

Another day, another polluted water source in Canterbury. This time, it’s in Woodend, which is pretty much Greater Christchurch now (it’s where the large “Pegasus” subdivision is.) This is after there was a contamination issue in Rolleston in May. I do like the opening line:

Authorities in Waimakariri are still trying to trace how E.coli got into the Woodend water supply.

Gee whizz, I wonder? Meanwhile, in the Perspective section of the Press, two of the ECan commissars commissioners argue that the water situation in Canterbury is “going to get worse before it gets better”:

People are rightly asking: what is being done? And when can we expect to see improvements in the state of water at favourite swimming or fishing spots, a reduction in algal blooms in lakes and rivers, and a turnaround in the level of nitrates in shallow groundwater? The answer to the first question is that a huge amount of work is already going on to improve freshwater – particularly over the past four years since the collaborative Canterbury Water Management Strategy was agreed. Getting water management right remains the single highest priority for Environment Canterbury. The answer to the second question is that unfortunately things are likely to get worse before they get better. This is simply because so much of Canterbury’s water is located underground.

Your job is to manage water. You know you are doing it badly, and yet you get to keep your job? How is this any better than the elected ECan? Oh, that’s right. The ECan coup wasn’t about improving water quality in Canterbury; it was about ensuring that certain interests got the water that they wanted, which wasn’t going to happen with an elected council. The water quality in Canterbury is declining rapidly, the nitrate levels are increasing alarmingly – and the widespread irrigation that the ECan coup was designed to encourage hasn’t even started yet.

One of the biggest casualties of the quakes in Seddon has been the damage to Dick Bell’s earth dam . It’s lucky that here in Canterbury, we have neither a history of earthquakes, nor a government-backed plan to build a series of massive dams so that we can convert more and more land to dirty dairying. It’s also fortunate that there are no examples of irrigation dams failing in Canterbury in our recent history.

Government subsidies for mass-expansion of an industry that has shown an ability to successfully regulate itself and enhance New Zealand’s international reputation is clearly the only way forward for this economy.

Eugenie Sage from the Green Party says that Canterbury has had the most faecal contamination in the water of any region in New Zealand – and this is before the Government’s subsidisation of irrigation has even begun.

“Canterbury is the worst region in New Zealand in terms of the number of people taking water from water supply schemes with excessive E coli breaches”

Here are some figures on the numbers of cows already on the plains. I shudder to think how shafted our water will be once the RMA has been gutted and the government-sponsored irrigation has been rolled out.