Thursday, February 25, 2021

Give the Rangitata back

Back in 2018, National's unelected Canterbury dictatorship issued a resource consent to take water from the Rangitata river for irrigation, in violation of its Water Conservation Order. Now, after two years of legal battles, the company has "voluntarily" surrendered it:

An irrigation company's decision to relinquish its consent to take extra water from the Rangitata River when in high flow has been hailed as a “gift to New Zealand” by anglers.

Rangitata Diversion Race Management Ltd (RDRML) was awarded the consent to take an extra 10 cumecs in water when the river was flowing 110 cumecs or higher by an Environment Canterbury-appointed independent panel in 2018.

However, appeals by Fish and Game, Ngāi Tahu and Te Rūnanga o Arowhenua to the Environment Court had delayed the consent's implementation.

RDRML chief executive Tony McCormick confirmed on Tuesday it had decided to relinquish the consent, describing it as "positive news" and adding they would make a further statement later.

Good. The consent would have undermined the river's ecosystem by lowering "flushing flows" and allowing excess sediment to build up, harming aquatic life. Surrendering it means at least things aren't going to get any worse. But it should only be the first stage. Currently, irrigators take over 70% of the river's total median annual flow: of the 74 m/s median annual flow at Klondyke, the Rangitata Diversion Race takes 30.7 m/s, Rangitata Water takes another 20 m/s, and a large dairy farm 1.5 m/s (figures from DoC). Which doesn't leave an awful lot of river left by the time it reaches the sea (though some of it is used for electricity generation and ends up in the Rakaia instead).

Worse, this water is used for dairy farms, which fundamentally change the nature of the Canterbury plains while spewing methane into the air and shit and poisonous nitrates into the river and the water table, destroying the climate, making rivers unswimmable, and endangering public health. If we want to protect our environment and ourselves, we need to scale this back. And the easiest way to do that is give the river back: remove or massively scale back those consents, and let the rivers flow.