Petition highlights community concern

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A section of the Waiau River in Western Southland. Photo: Dave Loudon

A SAVE Our Waiau River petition presented to Parliament highlights the level of community concern, the petition’s creator says.

Last month, the Waiau Rivercare Group (WRG) launched the petition, which had been signed by 2368 people, calling on the Government to not exempt the Manapouri power scheme from the draft national policy statement for freshwater management (NPS-FM).

It was officially presented yesterday.

The new NPS-FM would allow regional councils to “maintain freshwater quality below national bottom lines where it is necessary to secure the benefits of New Zealand’s five largest hydropower schemes”.

Group co-chairman Paul Marshall said the number of signatures reflected the community concern.

“You can always aim for more signatures but the reality is ours is a little community stuck on the western edge of Southland… it’s a good effort, I think.”

He said the Manapouri power station consumed 64% of all surface water available in New Zealand, and used a diversion of about 95% of the pre-control water flow of the Waiau River.

He had earlier told the Otago Daily Times science from 1993 suggested a minimum flow should be about 35cumecs, but it now sat at 12-16 cumecs.

Pre-control, flow down the Waiau was between 450 and 500 cumecs.

He said it was “bizarre” for Government to make this policy for improving water quality but exclude “such a large user from that conversation”.

While the group was awaiting further information on the policy, he was aware the signalled closure of the Tiwai Point Aluminium Smelter would have an impact on the scheme and river.

“If Southland is interested in decarbonising major processing industries… then actually, Southland needs that power.”

The Waiau Rivercare Group would be pushing for more research to be done on the 80km of the Waiau River on minimum flow requirements and the prospect of reduced demand meant there was a “unique opportunity” for it now.

The petition was delivered by NZ First list MP Mark Patterson, who said he had been a supporter of WRG to help restore river health.

“In my view the request for a modest 3% more water to flow down the river is not in any way unreasonable.

“Hopefully last minute lobbying before the final draft of the NPS-FM will give Environment Southland some levers to increase river flow and restore some health to the Waiau.”

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