20 June 2014

Environment Commissioner concerned about weak protection of wild and scenic rivers

Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment Dr Jan Wright says the Government has a mixed score card in responding to her 2012 report on the protection of wild and scenic rivers.

Dr Wright said that the protection of wild and scenic rivers that flow through conservation land is being improved. However, outside of the conservation estate, Government policy favours hydroelectric developments at the expense of protecting wild and scenic rivers.

Dr Wright released the report titled Hydroelectricity or wild rivers: Climate change versus natural heritage, in May 2012.

The investigation began after a number of members of the public contacted the Commissioner about the now-defunct proposal to build a dam on the Mokihinui River on the West Coast of the South Island.

The report evaluated the system of policies, laws, institutions, and processes under which choices are made between the two environmental 'goods' of hydroelectricity and the protection of wild and scenic rivers.

"I am certainly not against hydroelectricity  it is an enormously valuable way of generating electricity without emitting carbon dioxide", said Dr Wright.

"But the system that decides whether or not a hydroelectric dam should be built on a wild and scenic river should weigh the environmental benefits of both carefully."

The Commissioner made five recommendations to the Minister for the Environment and the Minister of Conservation.

"The proposed amendments to the National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management put greater barriers in the way of protecting wild and scenic rivers", said Dr Wright.

"However, when it comes to wild and scenic rivers that flow through the conservation estate, the response is very encouraging. Action is being taken on two related problems  stewardship land and the administration of riverbeds by Land Information NZ."

The update report can be found here.

The original report from 2012 can be found here.

ENDS