While political debate heats up over claims to water ownership, environmental and recreational groups are spearheading a campaign to raise awareness of Water Conservation Orders to protect some of the country’s rivers, including ones in the Bay of Plenty.
Fish & Game NZ, Forest & Bird, Environmental Defence Society (EDS), Whitewater NZ, Federated Mountain Clubs and other environmental and recreational NGOs have teamed up to highlight the importance of WCO-protected waterways – 15 throughout the country – and push for the protection measures to be strengthened.
Fish & Game chief executive Bryce Johnson says although there is wide recognition of New Zealand’s network of National Parks, very few Kiwis are that WCOs provide similar high-level protection status to some of the country’s most precious rivers.
“Over the past two decades we have experienced a significant decline in water quality and New Zealanders now identify this as their biggest environmental concern.
“Freshwater management is the issues of our time and it has been and will continue to be a highly contentious topic.”
The campaign represents a great opportunity for all Kiwis to set aside their differing views and celebrate WCO waterways.
Bryce says jewels in the crown of the country’s natural landscape have been protected in the past and need to continue to be protected as they are vital to the country’s 100 per cent pure, clean green brand.
Campaign initiatives include the launch of www.outstandingrivers.org.nz WCO website, putting up WCO signage and unveilings at key locations around the country to identify these waterways of national significance.
Environmental Defence Society (EDS) chairman Gary Taylor says the timing of the WCO campaign is right, given the host of controversial water-related issues presently at the fore.
He says like other organisations involved, EDS strongly supports the move to strengthen WCOs.
“Water Conservation Orders are the effective mechanism available to protect freshwater.
“EDS particularly supports moves to examine how land use adjacent to wild and scenic rivers can be better regulated to limit its impact on water quality.”
Gary says New Zealand’s WCO rivers are part of a joint heritage with iwi and just as important as National Parks.
He says they must be protected for their natural, scenic, wildlife and recreational values.
“With our freshwater resources under significant pressure from hydro and irrigation demand the dangers of over-allocation and pollution have never been greater.”
Forest and Bird conservation advocate Nicola Toki says the organisation is pleased to push for greater recognition of WCOs and strengthening of the legislation.
“New Zealand’s wild rivers provide crucial habitat for endangered native species like the whio, or blue duck, which inhabit the fast-flowing rivers and streams like the Maunganui-o-te-ao River in the central North Island.”
Nicola says most of the country’s lowland rivers and almost half of the lakes are now polluted.
“WCOs are robust and a tried legal measure which has worked to safeguard some of our most iconic rivers.
“We now have a national policy statement on freshwater that says we must protect outstanding water bodies and Water Conservation Orders are a legal tool that can achieve that requirement.”
Since the granting of the first WCO on the Motu River in 1984, organisations concerned have been working together to obtain many of the WCOs now in place, including those on the Ahuriri, Rangitikei, Mohaka, Grey, Buller, Kawarau, Motueka and Rangitata rivers.
Parliamentary environment commissioner Dr Jan Wright recently called for broader protection of wild and scenic rivers.
Those behind the WCO campaign want the Government to act on that recommendation.