WELLINGTON, New Zealand, October 28, 2009 (ENS) – Eight conservation and outdoor recreation groups have joined together in defense of New Zealand’s wild rivers, which now are threatened by dams and development.

Representing more than 100,000 New Zealanders, the eight groups say New Zealand’s remaining wild rivers need stronger protection and today they issued “an SOS for New Zealand’s finite and precious wild rivers.”

The eight groups are: the Council of Outdoor Recreation Associations of New Zealand, Federated Mountain Clubs, Fish & Game, Forest and Bird, the New Zealand Federation of Freshwater Anglers, the New Zealand Rafting Association, Whitewater New Zealand, and the Environment and Conservation organizations of New Zealand.

“Wild rivers are the lifeblood of our world-renowned conservation lands,” said Federated Mountain Clubs President Rob Mitchell. “They are unique wilderness pathways loved by all New Zealanders who go tramping and camping. It’s imperative we protect these incredible places.”

Wild rivers are under the strongest pressure for hydro dams and irrigation since the 1970s, the groups warn. New Zealand has already modified many of its wild rivers for industry, and it is time to say enough, they said in a joint statement today.

The new campaign comes in response to plans for a large hydropower dam on the South Island’s pristine Mokihinui River by Meridian Energy, a New Zealand state-owned enterprise; irrigation water storage dams on Canterbury’s Hurunui River; and indications that the government is considering scrapping water conservation orders nationwide.

Agriculture Minister David Carter came out against water conservation orders in September, saying the Land and Water Forum should, “…look quite seriously on whether this is a mechanism which has outlived its usefulness.”

Water conservation orders are set up to recognize and sustain waters that are considered to be outstanding as a habitat or fishery, or for scenic, scientific or recreational values.

Mountainbiker carries his wheels across the Hurunui River. (Photo by Alan Liefting)

Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Christchurch on October 16 to show their opposition to the proposed damming of the Hurunui River for irrigation of crops. A decision on whether to go ahead with the dam will be made over the next few months.

There are a finite number of wild rivers left, the groups said. “Damming them is irresponsible and short-sighted, especially when there are much more responsible and sustainable options.”

“Wild rivers such as the Hurunui have been enjoyed by generations of New Zealanders for recreation,” says Whitewater New Zealand President Polly Miller. “Our rivers are not only important to New Zealanders, but are also an essential part of our 100% Pure New Zealand image, with millions of tourists enjoying our wild rivers each year.”

The groups have fought for decades to get protection of wild lakes and rivers such as Lake Manapouri and the Motu River. They say water conservation orders have been a crucial tool securing protection, but now the future of the orders, and the fate of dozens of other threatened wild rivers is in peril.

The suggestion of Agriculture Minister Carter and Environment Minister Dr. Nick Smith that water conservation orders are “problematic” is of serious concern, and retreats from pre-election promises, says Fish & Game New Zealand.

“Water conservations orders are indeed ‘problematic’ if you wish to pollute, suck dry or damn those special and iconic rivers protected by a WCO,” said Bryce Johnson, chief executive of the New Zealand Fish & Game Council. “WCOs place restrictions or prohibitions on water takes, discharges, hydro-electric development and other uses. They are like a national park on a waterway. That’s why they exist.”

“These special waterways are of huge importance to New Zealand’s tourism industry and one of the very few legal mechanisms that put some serious integrity into our clean, green 100% pure brand,” Johnson said.

Forest and Bird Top of the South Field Officer Debs Martin said, “We could be looking at the end of all our wild rivers across the country. Government thinking is irresponsible and will spark a national backlash.”

“The Mokihinui and other wild rivers are precious because they are the last refuges for endangered wildlife, including native fish and birds such as the blue duck,” said Martin.

Energy planning must become more strategic, focusing on efficiency rather than building more dams, the groups advise, pointing out that the Electricity Commission has said New Zealand could save 6,400 gigawatt hours a year – equivalent to 20 Mokihinui dams – at less cost than building new electricity generators.

The groups want to see New Zealand develop its abundant wind and geothermal resources to generate electricity and make use of innovative emerging technologies.

They blame industrial agriculture that is demanding more water from rivers to irrigate land that is naturally too dry for dairy cows and say that is too much pressure on wild rivers.

Wild rivers currently targeted for dams include the Motu, Kaituna, Mohaka, Ngaruroro, Mokau in the North Island,

In the South Island the Mokihinui, Matakitaki, Clarence, Hurunui, Waitaha and Nevis rivers could be dammed.

Copyright Environment News Service (ENS) 2009. All rights reserved.