Thursday, January 14, 2010

Calling in dirty dairying

Back in December, we learned of plans to establish industrial dairying in the Mackenzie Basin. These plans would fundamentally alter the landscape of one of the most distinctive regions of New Zealand, as well as destroy the local environment, compete with electricity generators for water, and pollute some of our most pristine waterways. In response to this news, there has been an increasing public demand for the Minister to call in the applications under the RMA. Now that call has been backed by the Parliamentary Commissioner For The Environment.

The PCE highlights the significant impact on water quality, both in the Mackenzie basin and downstream:

“I am particularly concerned about the effect of these dairying operations on the water quality of the Ohau and Ahuriri catchments,” she said. “The combined effluent of these operations would be similar in quantity to a city the size of Christchurch being located in the Mackenzie Basin.”

A recent report from NIWA suggests that if the amount of nutrients entering Lake Benmore was to substantially increase, then the water quality of the lake and lower Waitaki River would be likely to seriously deteriorate.

“Such a result would be highly undesirable – especially as this region is popular for tourism and recreation,” Dr Wright stated. “In addition, Meridian has submitted evidence that there may also be implications for the ability of the Waitaki Power Scheme to generate carbon-free electricity.“

This certainly meets the statutory criteria under the old version of the Act - the one Nick Smith says applies - that allow a call-in where the Minister believes a project
has aroused widespread public concern or interest regarding its actual or likely effect on the environment
It may also meet the requirement in old s141B(2)(d) of affecting more than one region or district.

Normally I oppose call-ins - in the past they have typically been argued on weak grounds and are primarily aimed at forum-shopping by dirty developers who want to ride roughshod over local communities. Here, its based on environmental impacts, and it is the local community and regional council rather than the developer who are pushing for the call-in. There's now also a matter of consistent application of the law. The Minister has set a precedent by calling in the consent for the Turitea wind-farm, a fairly ordinary mid-sized wind project. If that qualifies as a "project of national significance", then it is difficult to see how a proposal to flood the Mackenzie Country with cowshit does not.