Commissioners needed to fix Canterbury water

  • Nick Smith
  • Rodney Hide
Environment Local Government

Commissioners are to be appointed to replace the Environment Canterbury Council and given additional powers under proposed special legislation to address urgent problems with water management in Canterbury, Environment Minister Nick Smith and Local Government Minister Rodney Hide announced today.

The announcement follows a critical independent review of Environment Canterbury's performance released in February.

"Efficient water management is crucial to New Zealand's competitive advantage and our clean green brand," Dr Smith said. "Canterbury is strategically important with it holding more than half of the country's irrigation water and hydro storage. Government leadership is needed to address Canterbury's lack of a proper allocation plan, increasing problems with water quality and the failure to progress opportunities for water storage.

"It is the Government's view that the problems identified by the review team are complex will not be resolved through the normal local electoral cycle. Commissioners will need a reasonable timeframe to resolve these difficult issues" said Mr Hide.. "For this reason the Government proposes to defer the  Local Government elections this year for the Canterbury Regional Council. The proposed legislation provides for new elections when Commissioners have completed their task but no later than the 2013 Local Government elections.

"I am confident that by then Environment Canterbury will be ready to return to an elected council status."

Dr Smith said an urgent priority for the Government was a water plan for Canterbury.

"This is a task that has been needed since the passing of the Resource Management Act in 1991 but it is still years away. Thousands of consents are being processes in an ad hoc way without any proper framework. Powers will be given to commissioners to fast track the completion of the plan.

"The Commissioners will also be given powers to impose targeted moratoria on water take consents and to make decisions on water conservation orders. This is to ensure they have all the tools at their disposal to deliver the step change required to effectively manage Canterbury's water.

"We want the Commissioners to build on the good work by stakeholders, councils and communities under the Canterbury Water Management Strategy. The legislation gives that strategy recognition and provides Commissioners with a clear framework for managing Canterbury's water."

The Ministers said that Dame Margaret Bazley has been appointed as Commission Chair Designate.

"Dame Margaret has an outstanding public service record of leading change and fixing difficult problems, "the Ministers said. "She will be joined by a further four to six commissioners to be appointed within the next month. Dame Margaret will today be meeting with Environment Canterbury senior executives to ensure a smooth transition to the new governance arrangements."

The Government will be introducing and intending to pass the Environment Canterbury Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management Bill under urgency in Parliament this week. The Bill makes temporary amendments to the Local Government and Resource Management Acts to empower the commission with those powers expiring in October 2013.

Dr Smith said: "No decisions have been made on the Environment Canterbury Review Group's recommendation for a new Canterbury Water Authority to replace Environment Canterbury. The Government wants to consider the conclusions of the Land and Water Forum due to report in July, the work on the Environmental Protection Authority, further advice from the Commission and officials, and consultation with the Canterbury community before making permanent changes to the governance of the region's water."          

For a copy of the Review Group's report into Environment Canterbury go to