Water management targets proving too ambitious

Environment Canterbury (ECan) will not meet some of its water management targets for 2015, a commissioner says.

ECan has been run by commissioners since the Government sacked its councillors in 2010, citing apparent mismanagement of water issues. The Canterbury Water Management Strategy (CWMS) set targets in 2009 across 10 broad areas for 2015, 2020 and 2040.

Targets for 2015 included making sure at least 80 per cent of river bathing sites were clean for recreation, significant wetlands were restored, and increasing the area of irrigated land in Canterbury and/or the reliability of irrigation.

In a report dated March 24, ECan strategy adviser Dann Olykan said a two-yearly progress report was due in June, and "will need to show whether or not the 2015 targets have been achieved".

David Caygill, one of two ECan commissioners on the Canterbury Regional Water Management Committee, said ECan was "on track" with several targets and needed "to do more work" in other areas.

A major target for 2015 was setting water quality limits based on nutrient levels for all 10 water-management zones - a task assigned to zone committees, Caygill said.

"We have got limits in place across the region as a whole but [with] the work of tailoring those limits to particular catchments . . . we're about halfway there," he said.

Ecan did not have the scientific resources available to set limits across all the catchments at the same time, and consultation was time consuming, Caygill said.

"When the strategy was agreed in 2009, the question of how we got to these targets had not been addressed. I don't begrudge the ambition that people had five or six years ago," he said.

"It's just when you sit down in a community hall in Cheviot or Dunsandel or wherever and ask people what they value about their river [and] what their reaction to the scientific information that you put in front of them is, sometimes the answers are straightforward and sometimes it takes a great deal of

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discussion."

Murray Rodgers, a trustee of the Water Rights Trust, said he was not surprised Ecan was struggling to meet the target as "there are serious flaws in how the . . . collaborative process is working in Canterbury".

In a letter to Environment Minister Dr Nick Smith on February 12, Rodgers said: "Water quality limits and environmental flows are not being treated as first order priorities, as the CWMS requires they should be. Instead they are being assigned to zone committees and collaborative processes to decide, which inappropriately politicises the outcomes. Those favouring development are typically very well resourced and able to retain the best advocates to present their arguments. Those defending the environment are typically volunteers, with limited financial resources."

Rodgers said water quality limits should be established independently of zone committees, "based on science, and their job, if it's going to work at all, should be to determine how they are going to be implemented. At the moment we are trying to take our water and make it all things to all people. We have really got to be realistic about what it is we are going to have to give up. The way the system is set up at the moment, in my view, is doomed to failure," he said.

Other CWMS targets for 2015 included:

* setting environmental flow limits for streams, rivers and groundwater

forming a co-governance arrangement for the management of Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere

restoring at least two significant wetlands in each water management zone

identifying customary Maori uses for all waterways

increasing freshwater angler numbers or catch rates over a five-year average

ensuring at least 80 per cent of river bathing sites are graded as suitable for recreation

increasing the area of irrigated land and/or the reliability of irrigation

starting projects to generate electricity from existing irrigation infrastructure

 - The Press

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