No substitute for dialogue on water

ORC chairwoman Marian Hobbs. PHOTO: ODT FILES
ORC chairwoman Marian Hobbs. PHOTO: ODT FILES
Sometimes, when discussing the Otago Regional Council’s inexorable and very public decline, commentary needs to be spoken or written more in sorrow than in anger.


After nine years on the ORC, dealing with issues in a governance role, I may be forgiven for believing that a compulsory retired councillor can have some insights into why our regional council now finds itself in a state of disarray.

In a word — water.

The reasons become even more obvious when analysing the cause and effects of the current turmoil. The National government passed the Resource Management Act 1991.

It also dissolved all water rights (miners’ rights) while also divesting itself of the ownership of fresh water behind dams such as the Falls, Manorburn, Fraser — into what is essentially private ownership.

Regional councils were given the responsibility of administering such issues as minimum flows and the local community was given the concrete wall, thereby setting in train the current debacle we now find ourselves in. Cause and effect.

What is not made clear during council decision-making processes, however, is the indivisible relationship between cause and effect. Add in the recent introduction of political ideology to the council table and the difficulties compound. Enter the massive urban-rural divide.

Cause and effect is a well-established process which should give opportunity to examine the consequences of a given action (legislation) along with a review of the potential impact should a particular course be actioned.

Nearly 30 years on, the cause — the RMA — has bequeathed us the effect of social unrest over the use of fresh water as all seek advantage from the regional council. The urban-rural divide is now so obvious that the chair of the ORC Marian Hobbs apparently feels that the best way for social policy to be determined is through the Minister for the Environment and/or the Environment Court.

Actually no — the courts are there to interpret the law not make the law, which is rightly vested with Parliament. The actual cause of the ORC’s implosion, therefore, appears to be the decision to by-pass the entire ethos of the RMA which is, or was, local decision-making for local conditions by local councillors.

It also needs to be said that a meeting in, say, the Becks Hall for an afternoon’s discussion, led, as always, by ORC staff was never going to work. Comment was sought as to how the ORC can now implement ‘‘best management practice’’ over water that was always managed by locals — irrigators and other water users who arrived for the meetings with their muskets fully primed and ready to defend their futures.

Such meetings are no substitute for genuine dialogue between all interested parties, over some prolonged interaction on the cause (known) and the effect (unknown).

Rivers can only be well managed with a source-to-the-sea concept through a river authority which makes recommendations to the regional authority to implement.

Exactly why is this concept ignored locally, when the Waikato River is co-managed by iwi and commercial water interests to great advantage and is exemplified by a high degree of social harmony?

Is the answer hidden in plain sight?

More likely it’s pure ideology that precludes lasting intergenerational solutions. The answer, sadly, to that question is all too obvious.

- Gerrard Eckhoff is a retired Central Otago farmer and former Otago regional councillor and Act MP.



It's time for a complete reform on how to protect our environment. Having a single council acting as monitor, law enforcement and prosecutor was doomed to fail, especially when many of the elected officials are from some of the worst polluting industries. I could make suggestions on a better system but in reality almost anything would be better!






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