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February 2011 Issue
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On the river again

Green Party co-leader Russel Norman says the hydro energy plan for the Wairau River is ecological vandalism

The sight of New Zealand falcons chasing wood pigeons across the West Coast’s Mokihinui River still stands out from Russel Norman’s last rafting and kayak tour of the country. “It’s a genuine wilderness experience. People were mind blown at how beautiful and wild it is,” said the Green Party co-leader.  

Branded as the ‘Dirty Rivers Rafting Tour’, the goal of Norman’s latest tour is the same as last: to raise awareness about the declining water quality of our rivers and the solutions to clean them up.

But he said it’s not all doom and gloom. “I’m trying to get a balance between drawing attention to the problems and celebrating the fact we have all of these great rivers. They’re at risk, but they’re still great rivers.”  

Last month Norman started his tour on Marlborough’s Wairau River, near Blenheim, which he said faces three threats which represent problems affecting rivers around the country: agricultural runoff, increasing sedimentation and colossus hydro energy schemes like the one proposed by TrustPower for the Wairau.

“They (TrustPower) want to take up to 60 per cent of the flow and run it through a 47km canal with five power stations on it and then drop it back into the river,” Russel said. “When you take 60 per cent of water out of the river you cause massive environmental impacts.

“As a braided river, the Wairau provides a habitat for birds such as the black-fronted tern. Once you take out the water you just don’t have that habitat anymore.”

To prevent this from happening, Norman hopes this summer’s tour will galvanise support for the proposed National Policy Statement on Freshwater Management (NPS) and put pressure on the Minister of the Environment, Nick Smith, to sign it off. “Clean water rules, and rules to protect minimum flows, have already been drafted in the form of a proposed NPS. All the Policy needs is Nick Smith’s signature,” said Dr Norman.  

The issue of the declining quality of fresh water resources has become more prominent since Norman began his tours a few years ago. Norman points out Lincoln University’s latest biennial study of public perceptions of the environment found water pollution and water related issues were rated as the most important environmental issues facing New Zealand. “The public understanding of it is increasing quite significantly.”