Collaborative water management delivers local solutions in north Canterbury

By Waiology 04/04/2013

By David Eder and Ian Whitehouse

WaterGovernanceWaiology2013In July 2013 the Hurunui-Waiau Zone Committee will notch up three years of work. It was set up as part of the Canterbury Water Management Strategy – a collaborative process for finding local solutions to water issues within an environmentally sustainable framework.

In July 2010 the committee’s daunting task was to sort out water storage in the Hurunui catchment and set water quality limits.

We held dozens of committee meetings, public meetings involving more than 300 people, and received written feedback from more than 120 people before finalising our zone implementation programme of recommendations.

Working collaboratively empowered us to reach consensus decisions on local water issues that are acceptable to a wide range of people. The ZIP now guides local government work programmes and policy to achieve the agreed goals of the Strategy.

The committee’s discussions are often rigorous: as a result the outcomes are well thought out. There are seven community members with wide interests including dairy farming, environmental and conservation management, irrigation development, dry land hill-country farming, rural business and recreational fishing. There are also two Runanga representatives and Hurunui District Council and Environment Canterbury representatives.

We recongise the old way of doing things was flawed; opposing parties could spend years arguing via lawyers or through the courts with little result. The new collaborative way allows us to listen to each other’s view and find solutions.

To allow us time to work collaboratively, moratoria were placed on water consent applications from the Hurunui and Waiau Rivers. This included the Hurunui Water Project’s application to dam the South Branch of the Hurunui River and Lake Sumner for water storage.

The collaborative process identified the Waitohi River as a more environmentally acceptable location for major water storage in Hurunui catchment even though this meant a 40% increase in the cost of the project and in the cost of water delivered to farmers. As a result the Hurunui Water Project applied for consents for water storage in the Waitohi River and the hearings on these began in late March 2013. The HWP application on the South Branch and Lake Sumner received more than 1,000 public submissions – most in opposition. The Waitohi River application attracted only 88 submissions with a clear majority supporting the proposal.

As a committee, it took several months to come to terms with what was required of us, and that each individual needed to leave self-serving views at the door. While it is impossible for everyone to be happy all of the time it is a tribute to everybody involved that we have got to where we are.

In our first year we had nearly 50 meetings and established a very open dialogue with many different groups. This enabled us to develop a programme of recommendations in a very short space of time: it was this tight time-frame that gave us the focus we needed to achieve what others were challenged to achieve.

As a committee we recognised the social and economic prosperity of the zone is largely dependent on water resources, whether through irrigation or tourism activities. We believe prosperity can be achieved while maintaining, but striving to enhance, environmental outcomes and preserving cultural and recreational values.

The next challenge for the zone committee is to increase the understanding between rural and urban audiences and dispel some of the myths that nothing has changed and farmers are destroying the land. People need to take some time to learn what is going on and begin to understand and appreciate the progress that is being made. The recommendations in the ZIP include setting flow and allocation regimes for the rivers and their tributaries.

Nutrient load limits also need to be set for North Canterbury’s rivers and tributaries and landowners need to improve nutrient management practices to make new irrigation developments feasible.

More recently, we have focused on implementing the ZIP and addressing issues such as integrating the three proposals from three different developers for irrigation and hydro generation development in the Hurunui and Waiau catchments and encouraging implementation of practices and systems to improve water quality and land-use practices on-farm and by irrigation companies.

It is the implementation and evolution of our ZIP that will provide the framework for ensuring our water resource can provide social and economic benefits for generations to come, as set out in the Canterbury Water Management Strategy.

David Eder is the Chair of the Hurunui-Waiau Zone Committee. Ian Whitehouse is the Environment Canterbury facilitator for the committee.

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