Laissez faire attitude: water

I’ve been concerned about intensive farming on the Canterbury Plains forever because I could see that we would eventually wreck our superb Canterbury water.

Back in 2006, the Central Plains Water Trust applied for their resource consents from ECan. At the time, I wrote to all 13 Christchurch city councillors (1) and mayor Garry Moore, urging them to not support the consent applications in their submission to ECan. More irrigation would simply allow further dairy intensification. And with that, you get more nitrates that wash into streams and aquifers. Here’s what it said in my letter (they all got their personal copy):

Dear …

I am writing to you about the Central Plains Water Trust (CPWT) resource consent applications.  I see that the item is to be discussed by Christchurch City Council on Thursday, 17 Aug 2006.

Christchurch is lucky to have one of the highest drinking water qualities in the world.  It would appear, though, that we seem to have a laissez faire attitude when it comes to the protection of this privileged status.

I am most concerned about intensification of land use including large scale dairy conversions on the Canterbury Plains, all on top of our aquifers.  Selwyn Plantation Board, a company part-owned by CCC, is selling large forestry blocks for more dairy conversion.  And the CPWT scheme is further enabling and accelerating these developments.

The council agenda spells out some very significant uncertainties in paragraph 16.  Imagine if in 20 years’ time, we find out that only one of the four bullet points was a correct prediction.  Future generations will ask how we could have ever accepted such risks.

The only responsible and sensible decision is to vote for Option 3 in the Council report.

Axel Wilke, 15 August 2006

Option 3 in the report (2) read: “To make a submission in opposition to the CPWT applications and requesting that it be declined on specified grounds, which may include potential adverse effects in terms of groundwater water quality and quantity impacts on Christchurch City’s water supply.”

Option 3 was voted on and was lost on the mayor’s casting vote. In the end, a resolution was passed that asked for a cautious approach to be taken. (3) But Central Plains Water eventually went ahead and started delivering water in September 2015.

Christchurch City Council in 2005

(1) The 13 city councillors at that time were Bob Parker, Norm Withers, Graham Condon, Pat Harrow, Sally Buck, Carole Evans, Gail Sheriff, Helen Broughton, Bob Shearing, David Cox, Anna Crighton, Barry Corbett, and Sue Wells.

(2) Link to the city council report.

(3) City council meeting minutes (look for item 11)

3 thoughts on “Laissez faire attitude: water”

  1. I think there is also the issue that CCC was, at one time, and possibly still is, an investor into the Central Plains irrigation scheme (through CCHL). They may have sold out their shareholding in more recent years but I believe they did hold some shares in the earlier stages of the scheme.

    1. I most certainly remember when in the early 2000s (before the episode quoted in the article), Christchurch City Council gave a $1m grant to Central Plains Water. My blood was boiling at the time!

      The good thing with companies in New Zealand is that ownership is a public record. CCC and Selwyn District Council used to be shareholders, as was the Selwyn Plantation Board (jointly owned by CCC and SDC at the time). But their shareholding has lapsed.

  2. Just reading on Wikipedia and CCC was instrumental in setting up CPWT. It’s not clear exactly how their interest was structured, whether it was through a formal shareholding or some other mechanism, or whether it is still the case today.

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