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What is a water conservation order?

June 28, 2010

black-billed gull, thanks to electropod on Flickr

The Oreti River is one of 16 water bodies in New Zealand with a water conservation order on it. This means someone has applied to the Ministry of the Environment for the order to recognise its special character and preserve certain characteristics. That could be for its habitat or fishery, its scenic nature, its significance to Maori, or for recreational, historical, spiritual or cultural purposes.

The Oreti order was granted because of the river’s outstanding habitat for brown trout and black billed gulls, the angling and significance to Maori.

Reasons are put forth in an application and if the Environment minister accepts it then a tribunal is appointed to report on the application, which is publically notified. Submissions are heard and then the tribunal prepares a report either recommending the order is approved or declined. Those who have submitted have a further right to submit after receiving the tribunal report.

In 2007 a special tribunal inspected the upper Oreti catchment and later held the hearing over  days. The applicant was made by the Southland and New Zealand Fish and Game Councils. The order went into affect in 2008 despite opposition from Environment Southland,  the Southland District Council and Fed Farmers who said it was unnecessary as the river was already protected under Environment Southland’s water plan. Here’s a news story about it.

So how important are conservation orders and do they actually make a difference? Southland Fish and Game manager Maurice Rodway said it was unlikely to have a big effect on river management but provided a bottom line for water quality, otherwise it was “death by a thousand cuts”. From what I’ve read so far, aside from protecting against significant changes, such as damming, it appears a conservation order is fairly symbolic. But I’m interested in finding out what difference the order has made on the Oreti River and views on it.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. June 29, 2010 4:13 am

    I’m looking forward to reading about your findings and the views you form Juliet. Maurice’s point is well made, I think. ‘Death by a thousand cuts’ seems to be the meme for land and water management here in New Zealand. I could tell you some stories from my own little town; old cabbage trees cut down on feeble pretext etc.
    Btw, isn’t it ‘damming’ the other is reserved for praise 🙂
    I tend to regard recommendations from the Feds as a signal to look more closely at an issue and tease out the background implications. Hardly environmentalists, are they 🙂
    I’m engaging Don Nicolson in debate presently as to my mind, he and his motley crew have Regional Councils in their sights and are more than a little excited to have a Government behid them making the same noises.

    • June 29, 2010 8:05 am

      Cheers. Yes, I’ve been reading your letters to the editor. Though I’m not sure how winnable the debate is with Rodney Hide at the helm.

  2. June 29, 2010 9:37 am

    Like debating with a strip of biltong.

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