Outcry over dying fish forces ECan to do U-turn

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied
Environment Canterbury has done a U-turn, allowing farmers to divert water into a dried-up creek.

Farmers and concerned locals have been contacting ECan for weeks, raising concerns about the Greenstreet Creek in Ashburton running low.

They were asking for permission to divert water from nearby O'Shea Creek - like they have done in previous dry years - to save the fish, eels and freshwater crayfish that call Greenstreet home.

It is something local farmers have done when Greenstreet ran low over the past 30 years.

But new minimum flow restrictions, which came into effect in July 2023, meant farmers could not do so this time.

They said ECan failed to reply or make a decision and the creek ran dry earlier this week, leaving locals and Fish and Game scrambling to save fish.

On Wednesday, council zone delivery manager Jennifer Rochford said the loss of aquatic life was highly-regrettable but allowing additional water into the creek was not a straightforward request.

"It's also unlikely that adding additional water at such a dry period would provide anything other than a very temporary solution."

Photo: Supplied/Facebook Outdoor Access Ltd
Photo: Supplied/Facebook Outdoor Access Ltd
On Thursday, council chief executive Dr Stefanie Rixecker decided to allow water to be diverted into Greenstreet Creek.

"As chief executive, I'm making the call to allow water to be diverted into Greenstreet Creek."

No reason for the change was given.

"We're aware of the community's frustration regarding the recent fish strandings at Greenstreet Creek and acknowledge we haven't kept the community well informed.

"The bigger picture is that we are amidst the impacts of the El Niño weather pattern and climate change, here and now, and we're seeing very dry riverbeds across Canterbury."

Rixecter said Canterbury had the greatest number of rivers and freshwater sources of any region in New Zealand and that came with challenges and the need to make trade-offs and tough calls.

"The Ashburton River / Hakatere is an over-allocated catchment with significant challenges, including natural changes in modified environments.

"We recently undertook water take consent reviews on this part of the Ashburton River / Hakatere, precisely because of these challenges.

"The decisions that came from the water take consent reviews are what our team at Environment Canterbury has been working through and grappling with in this particular case.

"These changes are tough on communities - communities who deserve better conversations about the changes."

There was the need for a better approach to "just transitions", that support the region to adapt to the effects of climate change in as fair a manner as possible, Rixecter said.

"I'm making this decision in the face of climate change and in recognition that we didn't get the 'just transition' conversation right; we own that."