Claim water race closed without full DOC facts

MATHEW GROCOTT
Last updated 12:00 15/01/2014

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An opponent of the decision to close a 100-year-old irrigation scheme claims the councillors who made the decision were misinformed by their staff.

The Horowhenua District Council voted last month to close the Waikawa Open Water Race, which carries water through farms near Manakau.

The race runs from the Waikawa Stream to the Mangahuia Stream and there are concerns that closing it will cause the Mangahuia, a habitat for several threatened native fish species, to dry out over summer.

Jeremy Miles, who owns one of the several farms the race runs through, said a council report on which the decision was made misquoted Department of Conservation staff and that council staff aware of the error did not inform councillors.

The report, prepared for the December 4 council meeting at which it was decided the race would close, said DOC had advised the council the race itself would not dry out in summer if it was closed.

It also said DOC had stated there was "strong fish habitat" downstream in the Mangahuia where fish would likely migrate to if the water flow was reduced.

DOC freshwater technical adviser Natasha Petrove was made aware of the report on November 29, several days ahead of the meeting, and wrote to the council that day to clarify DOC's position. That email, obtained under the Local Government Official Information and Meetings Act, said that nowhere in the correspondence DOC had had with the council was there reference to there being water in the race after its closure.

"The department made no mention of the words ‘strong fish habitat'," the email says.

"What was meant was that there would be a retrenchment in habitat and that some fish may go downstream, however it is likely that any suitable habitat downstream will already be occupied."

Mr Miles said the November 29 email was not mentioned by staff at the December 4 meeting. He did not think councillors had been made aware of its contents.

"The emails were never presented to the councillors," he said.

Horowhenua District Council acting chief executive Doug Law said the decision to close the Waikawa Open Water Race was not taken lightly.

Mr Law said councillors had all the information to enable them to make an informed decision and the council did not misrepresent any comments from DOC.

"After the report for December's council meeting was written, additional comments from DOC were received. These comments clarified some of DOC's initial concerns and were acknowledged by council," he said.

He did not say whether councillors were informed of the November 29 email.

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- Manawatu Standard

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