Canterbury – Our Water!!
Join us for a lunchtime rally to demand Canterbury’s right to manage Canterbury’s water!
World Water Day
Monday 22nd March
Ministers Smith and Hide complete a round of meetings with district and city councils this week. Cabinet may decide on Environment Canterbury’s future on 22 March. The information below may be of interest if you were thinking of providing your views to Ministers (firstname.lastname@example.org) , Canterbury MPs or media.
16 March 2010
Responding to the Creech Review Report on Performance of Environment Canterbury
A. Reasons Why Government Should Not Replace Elected Environment Canterbury Councillors with Appointed Commissioner/s
1. The Creech Review group did not establish any statutory basis for the dismissal of elected councillors nor find any dysfunction in governance which would justify the removal of Councillors’ functions, powers and duties in relation to water ..
2. Sacking councilors would deny 500,000 Canterbury citizens their elected voice in water management. It would contravene a basic democratic principle of “no taxation without representation”. The draft Annual Plan for 2010/11 proposes expenditure of $141 million with more than half of this ($78 million) coming from rates.
3. Councillors (in their offer of a Negotiated Agreement) and senior management (in Letters of 2 and 5 March to Minister Smith) have agreed to implement the substantive RMA and Local Government Act recommendations in the Creech Report. This should bridge the “capability gap” perceived by the Creech Review.
4. There is no public mandate to sever water management from the regional council’s other statutory functions. The Creech Report is based on a three week review in November 2009, interviews with less than 20 stakeholders, local authority Mayors and CEOs, and staff of Te Runanga o Ngai Tahu rather than any broad based public consultation similar to that undertaken by the Royal Commission into Auckland governance.
5. The “Water” recommendations in the first part of the Creech Report to establish a stand-alone Water Authority are not well supported by analysis and evidence in the body of the report.
6. Substantial progress is being made with regional plans and policies – decisions on the water chapters of the Natural Resources Regional Plan are due to be released in August, a second generation Regional Policy Statement is due to be notified in September, and reviews of environmental flows are underway (eg Waimakariri and Waipara ). Implementation of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) is proceeding apace.
7. The multi-stakeholder and community engagement approach of the CWMS when integrated with the RMA should provide a more robust institutional framework for managing water than the RMA alone, appointed commissioners or a Water Authority. It is a collaborative exercise to address “a people rather than a hydrological problem”.
8. Environment Canterbury has provided much of the staff expertise, governance oversight and co-ordination to develop and now implement the CWMS. The Strategy is based on an established set of relationships with the regional council as moderator. Curtailment of the regional council’s role risks destabilising the CWMS.
9. Resource consent processing times have improved substantially since the out of date 2007/08 Ministry for the Environment survey. Using a rolling average over the last 12 months, close to 90% of consent applications are now processed in accordance with RMA time frames.
10. There are plenty of good news stories in water management. The review of 600 existing consents in the Rakaia-Selwyn groundwater zone has resulted in annual allocation limits on takes, water meters, and restrictions on groundwater takes connected to lowland streams to help restore stream flows. This has been achieved through a collaborative process with “cluster groups” of consent holders. Commissioners have endorsed the agreed approach.
11. It would not acknowledge the complexity of water management in the region and the huge pressure the irrigation boom has put on the regional council as regulator. Resource consent applications for irrigated land area increased at an average of 11% per annum from 1998-2008. This is equivalent to the council receiving applications each year to irrigate the total area already consented for irrigation in Otago – the region with the second largest irrigated area after Canterbury. Staff and contractor capacity to consider the consent applications was increased by 20 % annually for four years but this was not enough to keep pace.
12. There is no evidence to support the Creech Report’s assertion that Environment Canterbury has impeded economic growth in the region. The National Bank’s analysis of regional economic activity shows that from March 2001-August 2009 the average annual growth rate in Canterbury for each quarter has generally exceeded the national growth in economic activity.
13. The Council clearly recognises the economic importance of water. As the 10 year plan (LTCCP) 2006-2016 highlighted, “Increasing demand for water is a key driver for economic growth in the Canterbury economy, together with a heightened public expectation of improvements to water quality in the region. The 10 year plan 2009-19 states “One of the foremost issues for Canterbury is the quality and availability of water , which ahs assumed greater significance due to increased land use intensification and growth in demand for this resource over the past decade.”
14. Appointing commissioners risks a perception that they will promote economic development and the interests of agribusiness and irrigation ahead of sustainable management. As the Prime Minister noted in his opening speech to Parliament, “the Government will take action this year to remove regulatory roadblocks to water storage and irrigation in Canterbury”. Portraying Environment Canterbury as such an obstacle destabilises its regulatory role and ignores the Council’s statutory responsibilities for managing water quality and quantity.
15. If commissioners are tasked with promoting economic growth and irrigation development ahead of environmental wellbeing this may generate a short term growth bubble. An agency with a compromised regulatory role potentially burdens future generations with more polluted waterways and increased nitrate levels in groundwater.
16. The council has trimmed the increase in its rates for 2010/11 from 7.2 % (projected in the 2009-19 LTCCP) to 4.2 % in the draft Annual Plan for 2010/11. In addition, the regional councils is funding the implementation of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) on behalf of all Canterbury local authorities as requested by the Mayoral Forum. Additional expenditure of $3.24 million is proposed in 2010/2011 collected through a targeted rate on all regional ratepayers. This will be spent on establishing the Water Executive (technical support term) and regional zonal water management committees, research and investigations and on a $1.4 million Immediate Steps Ecosystem Restoration programme.
17. Despite the national significance of water in Canterbury and many prime candidates for restoration initiatives (such as lowland streams, Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere) there has been no funding assistance equivalent to that which central Government is contributing to the four Rotorua lakes ($72.1 million over ten years as part of a $144 million programme to improve water quality); and Lake Taupo ($32 million to an $81 million programme to reduce nutrient inputs and improve water quality).
18. A stand alone commissioner or water board takes a silo approach to nature and would fragment management of water, land, air, natural hazards and the coast when these are all connected and when land use affects water quality.
19. The significant improvement in Christchurch’s winter-time air quality shows what Environment Canterbury can achieve with a similar focus on water management. Air was a priority because of the significant health impacts of elevated levels of small particulate (PM10). In the winter of 2007 PM10 levels exceeded the WHO standard (50 ug/m3) 14 times compared to 51 times in the 1999 winter and 41 times in the 2003 winter. A combination of regional rules and the Clean Heat incentive scheme has seen more than 14,000 households convert their old woodburners and open fires to low emission burners and heat pumps and install insulation. The Clean Heat scheme has been a model for Government’s Warm Homes programme.
20. The fact that territorial authorities have double the rate of non compliance with resource consent conditions (eg stormwater and wastewater) than other consent holders is a source of friction between them and Environment Canterbury which needs to be addressed.
B. Appointing an “Advisor” instead of a commissioner to oversee the implementation of the RMA and Local Government Act recommendations of the Creech Report would:
· be less draconian and anti-democratic than a commissioner.
· provide certainty to Ministers through several months of external advice on improvements in Council’s performance.
· represent a substantial concession by councillors in allowing Ministerial oversight.
· allow voters to judge the performance of councillors in relation to water management in October 2010.
· avoid the institutional churn and uncertainty associated with special legislation to create a new Water Authority.
C. Ministry for the Environment’s role
The following central government actions would assist Environment Canterbury by providing a clear national policy framework and better tools for water management:
consider amending the RMA to restrict appeals on the Proposed Canterbury Natural Resources Regional Plan (NRRP) to points of law only to speed the regional plan becoming operative.
finalise and gazette the National Environmental Standard (NES) for Measurement of Water Takes (water metering).
finalise and gazette the NES on Ecological Flows and Water Levels to provide a de facto flow regime for catchments where Environment Canterbury has yet to set environmental flows.
finalise and gazette the Board of Inquiry’s report on the draft National Policy Statement for Freshwater Management promptly once the Land and Water Forum has reported.
appoint a senior water policy analyst from the Ministry for the Environment to the Canterbury Water Management Steering Committee so that the Ministry is actively contributing to and familiar with progress on CWMS implementation.
develop the policy basis for an equitable levy or rental regime for water users to contribute to the costs of water management including CWMS implementation and environmental restoration.
Selwyn/Banks Peninsula regional councillor
 The Creech Review Report on p51 states “Almost all external parties interviewed had a negative perception of ECan’s governance. There is a widely held view that the councillors are so polarised at times that they are dysfunctional as a group. There is insufficient leadership, and the council is too busy protecting individual / Party perspectives and fails to pay sufficient attention to the Region. Our investigation did not bear this out. ECan is meeting its legal obligations under the LGA but has been unable to establish a firm planning environment which flows through to poor relationships and decisions under the RMA. The Review found that while the process for debating strongly opposing views has been marred by poor behaviour and reflects past grievances in some cases, the governance of ECan is functional and enables it to meet its statutory obligations. Mostly, the tensions that exist arise from differing political perspectives and not from any fundamental dysfunction.”
 The volume of water sought by consent applicants in Canterbury in three months is equivalent to the total volume of water allocated in Taranaki in the history of that region. Canterbury has set environmental flow regimes for about 250 rivers and tributaries in the region. Otago has set 12 environmental flow regimes.
 The gold rush was partly in response to the NRRP designating allocation limits for aquifers in the Rakaia-Selwyn as Red Zones to prevent abstraction exceeding the rate of aquifer recharge from rainfall or river seepage.
 The draft NES on Water Metering was notified for public submissions in Feb. 2007 after substantial input from Environment Canterbury and other regional councils. Most of the more than 160 submissions supported the NES. Two years later it has yet to be gazetted.
PO Box 2328
Ph 03 329 3177