Questions over Government's water forum, as fourth group leaves

A toxic algae warning at Lake Forsyth in Canterbury.
JOHN KIRK-ANDERSON/FAIRFAX NZ

A toxic algae warning at Lake Forsyth in Canterbury.

Four environmental groups have now left the Government's Land and Water Forum (LaWF), leading to claims the group is losing its legitimacy.

Federated Mountain Clubs (FMC), which represents 20,000 outdoor recreationalists, announced on Friday it had resigned from the forum.

Forest & Bird left the forum earlier this week, citing "mounting frustration" over the Government's handling of freshwater issues.

Proposed freshwater standards announced last month were the final straw, the group said.

Fish and Game left the group in 2015, and the Environment and Conservation Organisations (ECO) left last year, both citing selective implementation by the Government of the forum's recommendations.

With its major environmental voices gone, critics are now questioning the forum's ability to represent environmental views.

Green party water spokeswoman Catherine Delahunty said the forum no longer represented a diverse range of views.

"He [Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith] can no longer say it represents the full range of views on water, because some of the biggest NGOs [Non Governmental Organisations] have said we can't take it any more. It means the process has now become quite farcical.

"It can't be treated as the voice that represents the range of views - it represents industry, it represents government. Is it really worth continuing?"

Marnie Prickett of freshwater advocacy group Choose Clean Water said it was "a vote of no confidence" in the Government's water policy.

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"If these two long-standing environmental groups say that they cannot support the Government's approach, it means that the things we love as New Zealanders, our beautiful country, are at risk under this shambolic policy."

The forum comprises dozens of groups from farming, business, environment and government sectors to collaborate on freshwater issues.

There are just a handful of environmental groups remaining.

Earlier this week, Smith said Forest & Bird's departure did not mean the forum was losing its legitimacy.

He said Forest & Bird had become increasingly politicised, and other environmental groups remained in the forum. 

"You've got really important environmental groups like the well-respected Environmental Defence Society [EDS] and Ecologic [on the forum]," he said.

"Forest & Bird has always tended to be about the extreme greens. Our Government makes no apologies for being the practical greens."

FMC left the forum to show support for the groups which had left, vice president Jan Finlayson said.

"The Government wasn't listening to its recommendations despite the fact they were reached collaboratively by a spectrum of groups with interest in water, from farming to iwi."

In a letter to Smith, she recommended an assessment of the collaborative processes used for resource management.

The EDS, one of the largest remaining environmental groups on the forum, had no intention of leaving.

"We still think staying with the forum is the best way forward to secure improved freshwater management," chief executive Gary Taylor said.

 

 

 

 - Stuff

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