Potential bias in water rules concerning

An outgoing Fish & Game officer is concerned conflicts of interest may affect Environment Canterbury's new rules of water use.

ECan's Land and Water Regional Plan proposes region-wide rules for water use, with the exact details on limits for each zone coming in stages until 2017.

The Canterbury water management strategy's 10 zone committees will be tasked with recommending overall nutrient and minimum flow limits.

But outgoing North Canterbury Fish & Game officer Tony Hawker was concerned some zone committee members either held irrigation consents or interests in irrigation development - and did not have to declare them.

"It wouldn't matter if the committees were putting in guidelines for how to meet the limits - in fact, that would be practical. But to actually entrust them with recommending limits raises all sorts of other issues," he said.

A cursory search by the Herald revealed that on the Upper Waitaki committee, chairman Barry Shepherd was involved in the Benmore Irrigation Company, while Simon Cameron is a shareholder in the Mackenzie Irrigation Company.

In the Lower Waitaki committee, Matthew Ross is a board member of Irrigation New Zealand, while member Robin Murphy also chairs the Morven Glenavy Ikawai Irrigation Company. Many other committees also featured members with irrigation interests.

"Technically, if these committees had to declare their conflicts of interest, they would never reach a quorum to hold a meeting," Mr Hawker said. "ECan seem to place quite a strong emphasis on the work of the committees to set limits in plans rather than the science presented from their own staff," he said.

ECan commissioner David Caygill said the committees' overall makeup ensured there was no bias.

"Also, it is essential that people affected or potentially affected by any ‘limits' are a party to the limit-setting process. The zone committee deliberations are only recommendations to ECan," Mr Caygill said. "These recommendations form the basis of rules which ECan drafts and advertises . . . [in] which the general public have every right and opportunity to be involved."

People have until October 5 to submit on the draft land and water plan's region-wide rules, with hearings to be held later in the year.

Specific rules for each zone will go out to the public over the next few years. Government legislation replacing councillors with appointed commissioners also removed the right to appeal against the plan to the Environment Court.

The Timaru Herald