Thursday, May 31, 2012

Time to protect our wild and scenic rivers

The Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment has released a report [PDF] on hydroelectricity and wild rivers, looking at the conflict between the two. Both have environmental benefits, but the current legislative scheme seems to favour hydroelectricity. Renewable electricity generation is encouraged by the RMA and by a National Policy Statement, while the legislation around conservation stewardship land allows Ministers to sidestep protections by exchanging land with developers (frequently while not being allowed to consider the river, because it is managed by LINZ rather than DoC). Meanwhile, the NPS on freshwater management does not protect wild rivers, protection in local plans is inadequate, and Water Conservation Orders are prohibitively difficult to get (and utterly worthless in Canterbury).

The PCE suggests rebalancing the legislation, with explicit protection for wild and scenic rivers in a National Policy Statement under the RMA, and amendments to make it easier and quicker to apply for a Water Conservation order. They also recommend a stocktake of rivers, either for protection with WCOs, or protection under the Conservation Act, depending on ownership (they also recommend transferring riverbed ownership from LINZ to DoC so there is one manager). Finally, they recommend changes to the interface between DoC concessions - required to do anything on DoC land - and the RMA, either by requiring the concession application to go first, or holding joint concession/resource consent hearings. The former is a much better idea than the latter, and it will save both applicants and submitters time and money.

The ball is now in the government's court to act on these recommendations. Sadly, given their general attitude to the environment, I suspect they won't.