Finger pointed at water 'corporate robbers'
"Greedy farmers" and "corporate robbers" are stealing water from people as they scramble to replace water right consents, an Otago Fish and Game councillor says.
Councillor Dave Witherow told the council, which sat in Cromwell, increased public awareness was needed about the value of water before they would be forced to watch the "steady degradation of the resources we care about".
The comments came during discussion about the expiration of mining privileges and concern of over-allocation of water as people reapply in advance for Resource Management Act (RMA) consents.
A lot of Central Otago's water is allocated by way of mining privileges, which are rights to take water established in the gold mining era at a time when there was no consideration of environmental issues. The RMA requires those privileges to expire in 2021 and reapply for a RMA consent.
Chief executive Niall Watson said there had been a "scramble" of people replacing mining privileges with RMA consents.
"Some are doing that in advance of this catchment-wide process such as setting minimum flows. Ideally, we think minimum flow should be established in advance of reallocation of water because many of the catchments where mining privileges are in place are over-allocated, so the transition from mining privileges to the RMA consent is likely to involve some clawback of water for environmental water flows."
Mining privileges were exclusively now used for irrigation by farmers, he said.
"There is nothing wrong with them moving from mining privileges to RMA consents, but if those changes are considered in isolation of a catchment-wide consideration of river flows, over-allocation of water could continue, at least in the short term."
Mr Witherow said the farmers were "stealing public property" and the public needed a greater appreciation they were being defrauded.
"To some extent we are arguing in a vacuum because the level of success we will have will depend on what the public will demand. Farmers are stealing public property.
"If the public had a proper appreciation of that and how they realised they were being defrauded and ripped off they would be enraged at what these greedy farmers are making off with.
"Look what has happened in Canterbury over the last 40 years ... We will not be able to stop any of this by speaking about minimal flows ... what we ultimately need is sufficient public awareness of the value of these things, and the fact these things belong to them, not corporate raiders and robbers."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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