Another view on ‘wai worry’


Alexa Forbes in her article on wai worries for the region (MS, April 30 click here to read more) ended her piece with the injunction that the blame game is not helpful and everyone will need to change.

This is certainly useful advice.

In the interests of accuracy, the following does seem to be the current position.

The replacement arrangements for the long-term mining permits, which are coming to an end, have been held up by the Otago Regional Council (ORC) rather than the irrigators.







These permits were given 30 years to expire in 2021: the notion of farmers and other irrigators holding 100-year permits is fanciful.

Irrigation systems are expensive, particularly those which utilise the available water efficiently and not wastefully.

Dams are likewise expensive, but help better use of this precious resource.

If we want water to be used frugally, those who irrigate must have the ability to borrow on a longer-term basis than six years.

There is no evidence that with the recent decision about plan changes seven Otago Regional councillors were thinking of economics and the other five were concerned about environmental outcomes.

We are all charged with the responsibility to think of these and other issues when making decisions.

In fact, it appears all councillors have a strong desire to achieve better environmental outcomes.

The difference between the two views expressed by the final vote was in the faith we had in whether the proposal would indeed achieve the outcomes sought.

The majority expressed the view that proper consultation had not had a chance to happen, and in the Covid-19 world we live in more time was needed to achieve that.

The government has itself given more time for consultations it is a part of, and it seems entirely likely if the ORC has asked for more time for consultation the a Minister would have allowed us to do this properly.

Various businesses in New Zealand make use of our natural resources.

We charge people for taking jetboat rides on our rivers and the numbers who are allowed to do so are limited by a concession system.

We have dams providing clean green hydro-electricity which we will need as we electrify our economy – these dams do not have six-year permits, understandably.

We allow businesses to take (our) fish from our sea, and give permits limiting the number allowed to be taken.

We understand the conservation of fish populations and administer the system by reducing limits when stocks are low.

The use/redirection of water is another area where we utilise this approach to a natural resource.

We have rules about dams, irrigation pipelines and races.

None of this means somehow wai is privatised for businesses to take away something belonging to us all.

Just as with fishing quota, no one needs to find it intolerable that these resources are controlled by central or local government on behalf of us all.

In so far as change being needed, we would do well to leave out setting up two factions, and do more to understand how we can both utilise natural resources and protect the environment, something which many irrigators take pride in achieving.

As with anyone we wish to change their behaviour, the best way through is to acknowledge and encourage successes and to work with the communities involved to discourage and prevent failures to protect our environment.

Hilary Calvert is an Otago Regional Councillor