The background is that the Hawkes Bay Regional Council has a grandiose plan to construct a dam to provide water for irrigation. There are concerns that the dam could have a major adverse effect on the Tukituki River and its water quality may be devastated by increased nutrient run off.
Water quality is a major responsibility of the Department of Conservation. Under section 6 of the Conservation Act 1987 one of its functions is “to preserve so far as is practicable all indigenous freshwater fisheries, and protect recreational freshwater fisheries and freshwater fish habitats”. You would think that the potential devastation of a significant river would fall within this. There is also DOC land that would be directly affected by construction of the dam.
The original 32 page draft submission said that the proposal is a risky and untested approach to water management which could kill the rivers involved. It also said the risks of the dam project had not been fully assessed, and there was an inadequate management plan for potentially high impact effects on rivers. It was replaced with a 2 paragraph submission that did not refer to these concerns and was neutral on the proposal.
The intensification of agriculture which will occur as a result of the dam means that much greater stock numbers will be possible. This will mean much more effluent, and a significant rise in the amount of nitrates leeching into aquifers and streams through their urine and fertiliser use.
Hawke’s Bay Regional Council is suggesting that phosphates only and not nitrates have to be controlled. It has proposed in Plan Change 6 an increase in nitrates, get this, of up to 500% on current levels in the Tukituki and Waipawa rivers and tributaries to what are described as toxic levels.
The problem with DOC’s position is that it is abdicating its responsibility to protect the environment and there are a distinct lack of Public Authorities advocating for protection. The Hawkes Bay Regional Council has stated optimistically that the proposed dam “would take pressure off the Tukituki River in the summer months and potentially return it to naturalised flows. This would improve the water quantity and quality of the Tukituki River, which would be great news for the environment and recreational users.” But there is no mention on the damage caused by increased nitrate levels.
The timing of the change to DOC’s submission and Nick Smith’s role in this will no doubt be investigated as will his recent statement to Parliament. On September 17, 2013 in a point of order he said “[t]he member has claimed in the question that I had access to a report that I did not do so until I heard it on Radio New Zealand National this morning.” He then said outside Parliament “I did not know that this draft document even existed until this morning. And to have accusations that somehow I have covered up its existence – it is somewhat difficult to cover something up when you didn’t even know it existed.”
This morning on Morning Report details of an email amongst senior managers leaked to Peter Fowler were disclosed. The email, sent on July 29, 2013, said that Smith wanted to see DoC’s submission before it was lodged with the Board of Inquiry.
Smith fronted on Morning Report and in typical style answered questions with extreme confidence but there is a distinct smell about this.
He confirmed that on July 29 he was told that DOC had to finalise its submission on the Dam and that he asked to see the submission before it went in. He then received a full briefing (20 pages) with details on why the Department had decided not to submit on the nutrient issue.
An environmentally hazardous proposal supported by the farming lobby is initially opposed by DOC, Smith asks to see the submission, it is then changed dramatically and he denies any knowledge of it. This smells.
No doubt more questions will be asked. But how a Minister could ask to see a report, receive a 20 page briefing on it, deny all knowledge about its existence and then claim he has not misled is beyond me.
UPDATE: Question time this afternoon should be interesting. Questions include:
Hon RUTH DYSON to the Minister of Conservation: Has he ever seen or received a submission or draft submission from the Department of Conservation regarding the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council Plan Change 6, which paves the way for the Ruataniwha Dam proposal, which is critical of it?
Dr RUSSEL NORMAN to the Minister of Conservation: Does he stand by his statement “No, I did not” when asked in this House whether he gave any indication to the Department of Conservation on the direction or content of its submission on the Tukituki Catchment Proposal?