Kevin Hague: WCO opposition 'alarmist'

By Kevin Hague

Kevin Hague, Forest & Bird's chief executive, fully supports the controversial Water Conservation Order. Photo File
Kevin Hague, Forest & Bird's chief executive, fully supports the controversial Water Conservation Order. Photo File

Forest & Bird chief executive Kevin Hague says the hotly debated Water Conservation Order is about protecting a unique but "vulnerable corridor' of water. He speaks to Mark Story.

Many would say Hawke's Bay has rivers in more dire need of WCOs - why the Ngaruroro and Clive?

One thing that everyone agrees on is that the Ngaruroro is an important river, and deserves recognition and protection, and that is what the Ngaruroro WCO application seeks to do.

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The Ngaruroro is one of only four braided rivers in the North Island, and the 50km reach from Whanawhana to Fernhill is the longest and least modified braided habitat of any of them. The upper, mid, and lower reaches each have different characteristics, but all provide habitat to important native species, and together make a unique but vulnerable wildlife corridor.

Seventy-two endemic or native bird species live, breed or over winter in the Ngaruroro catchment. Twenty-seven of these are threatened or at risk of extinction. Twenty endemic or native fish species live in the Ngaruroro catchment and many of these, such as koaro, bluegill bully and torrentfish have had their conservation threat status increased from 'not threatened' to 'at risk - declining' in recent years.

The river is an internationally significant bird habitat, and a nationally significant fish habitat. It also has cultural and recreational importance, and that is why this is the only WCO application that has had six co-applicants.

Orchardist John Bostock claimed this week the WCO's applicants don't fully understand their own submission.

The application for the WCO, made in 2015, describes the environmental, cultural and recreational values of the Ngaruroro river, along with preliminary suggestions for how these values can be protected. Submitters can also give their own view on what those values and protections should be. The hearing panel is charged with determining how to protect the river by examining these submissions along with the best science available.
In order for this to happen, the applicants have suggested that the hearings be timetabled specifically so all the science is at hand and able to be fairly assessed, including the Council's groundwater science which is still being processed.

We are dismayed that Mr Bostock has interpreted the WCO as having drastic impacts. This was not the intention with which it was written, and we don't see how these could occur based on our extensive experience of freshwater protection law. We look forward to sitting down with Mr Bostock and others who are interested in the WCO to talk it through. Nobody disagrees that the Ngaruroro deserves protection, and we would much rather work sensibly towards finding the best way to deliver that protection than engage in a public slinging match.

Existing water takes can and are regularly reviewed, so on renewal could existing water takes be affected by the WCO?

The WCO is about protecting the existing values of the river. There is no proposal to roll back water takes. On the contrary, our proposal specifically provides for renewals of existing water consents. Whether those are granted will be in the regional council's hands, as always. Currently the river is over-allocated, and the council will need to address that situation, regardless of whether or not a WCO is made. The WCO is not to blame for longstanding environmental problems that will have to be dealt with in any case.

Environment or economy: is it a case of either-or?

Water Conservation Orders exists on rivers all over New Zealand in regions with thriving horticultural and agricultural economies. Any suggestion that we are unable to care for the environment while providing for economic needs is plainly without merit. We can and should do both. This WCO application seeks to preserve the river as it is now. It is certainly not the case that thousands of jobs will be lost, communities destroyed, or other alarmist stories we've been hearing from people opposed to the WCO.

Locals argue it's a Wellington-centric application made by those who don't understand local issues.

Forest & Bird has three membership branches in the Hawke's Bay region. We are represented on TANK, and active in many other local and regional forum, as well as doing the hard work of weed control, tree planting, pest trapping, and running a kids club. Our members are part of the Hawke's Bay community, and have led and contributed to local farming, community, and environmental efforts for many generations.

Any suggestion that this application is being imposed by outsiders is both untrue and disrespectful of the effort and goodwill volunteered by our local members to their community. Forest & Bird wants what everybody wants: to protect the Bay's unique natural environment, alongside a vibrant community and economy. The Ngaruroro is a unique natural asset which we all benefit from, and it deserves our protection so it can be enjoyed for generations to come. The WCO process is an opportunity for constructive and honest conversation about how best to do that.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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