ECan sought special powers regarding water

Environment Canterbury tried for four years to convince successive Governments to give it special powers to deal with freshwater management issues in Canterbury.

That is revealed in correspondence from Environment Canterbury (ECan) to Environment Minister Nick Smith and Local Government Minister Rodney Hide, obtained by the Otago Daily Times yesterday.

It included calls for law changes, the use and development of national instruments and policy advice on available options.

Now, the Government has sacked the 14-member elected ECan regional council and will replace it with up to seven commissioners.

It has already appointed Dame Margaret Bazley as chair-designate.

The Government also plans to give the commissioners special powers to speed up water management in Canterbury, impose moratoriums in areas where water is close to or fully allocated and decide on water conservation orders, the last two with the approval of Dr Smith.

Yesterday, ECan chief executive Bryan Jenkins told the ODT one of the crucial issues ECan had faced was "at-risk catchments".

Where there were issues with water availability, or cumulative effects from use of water, ECan wanted the ability not to process new resource consents applications for water until it had consulted existing and potential consent holders on the way forward.

The Resource Management Act (RMA) has statutory time scales to process consents and a "first-come first-served" approach.

"Instead of having to deal with a 'gold rush' of consents, we could say this area is sufficiently close to full allocation or the effects are so great that further investigation is needed before we deal with new consents," he said.

This was one power ECan wanted, that the commissioners would have.

Dr Jenkins would not say whether that would have made a difference to the way ECan had handled freshwater management, which had led to the Government sacking the council.

However, ECan chairman Alec Neill did say had his council had the commissioners' powers available to it, he was certain issues surrounding water could have been resolved more easily by the elected representatives.

As far back as 2006, at a national water forum, then ECan chairman Sir Kerry Burke gave a presentation asking for special powers, especially the ability to impose moratoriums on over-stressed water areas.

In 2007, it wrote to then environment minister David Benson-Pope about its ability to respond to the challenge of "at-risk catchments", suggesting national standards as a possible management tool.

That was followed in early 2008 by a summary of ECan's position on the proposed national freshwater policy statement.

In mid-2008, ECan told then environment minister Trevor Mallard about the problems it faced in dealing with a "gold rush" of water applications.

The last letter was to Dr Smith, on proposals to amend the Resource Management Act (RMA), resulting in ECan and a staff member working closely with the Ministry for the Environment on freshwater management issues.

However, there was only "low-level responses".

 

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