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In an opinion piece published on a news website earlier this month, New Zealand Fish and Game Council chairman-elect Ray Grubb took umbrage at the council’s management of the river, particularly decisions allowing irrigation to reduce the river to 8% of its low flow.
He said the issue was driven by an underlying problem of vested interests "dominating council politics and dictating workstreams that focus foremost on driving commerce and economic growth, in direct contravention to the guiding principles of the Resource Management Act (RMA)".
"The system is broken, and it must be fixed."
The Government’s forthcoming Natural and Built Environments Act would be an opportunity to address these issues, Mr Grubb said.
ORC chairman Andrew Noone disagreed with the notion that vested interests were dominating politics at the council.
The Members Interest Act provided guidance for councillors about vested interests, and required them to provide a pecuniary interests register for the public record, he said.
The council had accepted its regional policy statement (RPS) and water plan were not fit for purpose, and needed to be reviewed and rewritten.
"We are well down that pathway with the new RPS being notified June 2021 plus the land and water plan is on track to be notified by end of 2023 as required by [Environment Minister] David Parker," Mr Noone said.
Mr Parker said the issues raised by Mr Grubb had been addressed by a 2020 amendment of the RMA that changed how water plans for rivers and lakes were made.
"Panels of specialist water commissioners, who are overseen by the chief water commissioner who is a former environment court judge, will now hear proposed plans."
This would ensure rigour in the process to apply the new national policy statement for freshwater management which has the criteria needed to clean up the country’s rivers, he said.