Cold Creek—where are you flowing?
A Taranaki stream is about to be privatised for the benefit of dairy farmers. The story of ‘Cold Creek’ fits perfectly into the current debate over who owns the rivers, the clouds and the rain.
The hydrological cycle describes the continuous movement of water on Earth. What starts as a small trickle in the mountains makes its way towards to the sea we are taught. Along the way, the water is used for drinking, cooking, irrigation, healing, swimming, fishing, generating electricity, as a convenient dump-site for all sorts of waste and in many other ways. With the government's plan to sell a large percentage of state-owned electricity generating companies, the debate around who owns the water has been discussed widely and the legal challenges mounted by Maori has led to a temporary halt of the sale.
Taranaki dairy farms consume enormous amounts of water in the milking shed, for stock, and increasingly to irrigate paddocks. Farmers require resource consents from the Regional Council to use groundwater or to discharge treated effluent into rivers.
A current bill before – the South Taranaki District Council (Cold Creek Rural Water Supply) Bill – would essentially privatise a large chunk of a river for the benefit of dairy farmers.
The Cold Creek Water Supply
At the top of Kiri Rd in South Taranaki, Cold Creek emerges from the National Park. Most of the water gets diverted into a 4000 cubic metre lined reservoir and from there gets distributed to around 162 users, covering 7,620 hectares of dairy farms. The South Taranaki District Council inherited the scheme from the Egmont County Council in 1989 and handed over the day-to-day management to the Cold Creek Community Water Supply, a private company run by the dairy farmers themselves. The scheme was initially financed by the farmers plus a dollar for dollar taxpayer contribution.
A resource consent was first issued for the Cold Creek water scheme in August 1983 authorising a take of 4,000 m3/day. The consent was renewed for the same quantity in 1994. The only conditions of the consent were a limit on the daily volume taken and requirements to monitor the amount taken and to ensure fish passage past the intake.
There was no minimum flow condition to restrict taking during low flow periods. By 2006 taking frequently exceeded the consent limit so on 1 September 2006 an application was made to increase the limit from 4,000 m3/day [46.3 litres per second] to 5,095 m3/day [59 L/s]. That application was originally to increase the take to 6,134 m3/day [71 L/s] with some of the water [1,036 m3/day] to be used to augment the Opunake supply.
It is important to note that nearby Opunake has a terrible water supply. After a heavy rain, the town does not have access to clean drinking water. In those emergencies, the Cold Creek supply has been used at times.
Fish and Game New Zealand pointed out that Cold Stream provides a significant habitat for brown trout spawning and the rearing of juvenile trout and that Cold Stream is an important source of recruitment for the maintenance of the locally significant trout fishery in the Taungatara Stream. The flow of Cold Creek is also important to the maintenance of downstream flows and trout fishery and aquatic habitat values in Taungatara Stream. That's why Fish and Game has opposed the taking of such large quantities of water from Cold Creek.
A bill introduced by National MP Shane Ardern and currently before parliament has as its purpose “to specify the process that the South Taranaki District Council must follow to authorise a transfer of the Cold Creek Rural Water Supply Scheme to Cold Creek Community Water Supply Limited.” In the debates in parliament, National MP Chester Borrows explained that this bill “is about alkathene pipes and concrete. It is not about water. It is not about the mauri of the stream from which the water is taken.” However, it's obvious that the pipes and concrete would be worthless if it wasn't for what flows inside them.
It's not Jacinda – the family connection
Shane Ardern was born and educated in Taranaki and has lived there all his life. He went to Opunake High School, started working on farms and at the tender age of 23 bought a dairy farm at Te Kiri. His dairy farm on Waitino Rd benefits from the Cold Creek water supply. In 1998, Ardern was elected as the MP for Taranaki-King Country and won every election since. For the 2008 General Election, the electorate boundaries were changed and his home turf was transferred to the Whanganui electorate.
“And who heads [the Cold Creek] company?” asked Labour MP Andrew Little during the debate in parliament. “A chap by the name of Neville Ardern. We have heard that surname before. We have [Labour MP] Jacinda Ardern and we have [National MP] Shane Ardern. Guess which one Neville Ardern is related to? Let me give you a clue: it is not Jacinda. It is Shane Ardern. When the South Taranaki District Council had a meeting on this in August 2011, who turned up to speak on it? Three people did. The three musketeers, Shane Ardern, Chester Borrows, and Neville Ardern, turned up hand-in-hand, hand-in-glove to prevail upon the South Taranaki District Council to hand this scheme over.”
At that meeting, it states in the minutes that Shane Ardern said that “[i]f Cold Creek community failed in their divestment request, then there would be some legislative programme through Parliament that would bring about the kind of ownership it desired.” So things didn't go Shane and Neville's way to get control over their farm's water supply. Easy solution: Shane sits in parliament and can simply pass a bill to make sure the water never runs.
Iwi opposition – no consultation, no say
In parliament, Chester Burrows said that two marae are also on the scheme and had been approached and given support. “However, there was an expectation – maybe it was somewhat naïve – that the marae themselves would keep their iwi informed as to what was happening in respect of the water scheme, and we found fairly late in the day that that had not taken place.” In its excellent submission, the Taranaki Iwi Trust – the representative body for Taranaki Iwi which is one of the eight iwi in Taranaki and with an approximate area of interest extending from the West of New Plymouth around coastal Taranaki to south of Opunake and inland onto Taranaki Mounga (Mt Taranaki) – makes it clear that the iwi is opposed to the bill. “The Trust considers that the Bill essentially seeks to allocate rights to water by transferring the use and ownership rights of the Scheme to Cold Creek Community Water Supply Limited.”
Furthermore, Taranaki Iwi stated that “[t]he Trust was not consulted or engaged with, at any stage, regarding the development of the Bill. Given that the [Scheme] is located within the Taranaki Iwi rohe, this lack of consultation and engagement with the Trust in respect of the Bill is unacceptable.”
The Trust also says that it “accepts the right of those marae to make decisions in the best interests of their needs as users of the Scheme.” That doesn't mean, though, that the Taranaki Iwi agrees with the scheme nor was there any consultation.
Of the 162 blocks of land, only about 17 are under Maori ownership. It is also important to note that the top of Waiteika Rd and along Eltham Rd, where there are a number of Maori owned blocks of land, is excluded from the scheme. The boundary more or less follows the Maori-Pakeha land-ownership boundary (see attached image).
Select committee gives go-ahead
Only two parties – the Maori and Mana Party – opposed the bill at its first reading in March 2012. Mana MP Hone Harawira said that “MANA is right behind South Taranaki iwi opposing privatisation of their local water supply. If they say occupy, we’re there.” Even the Greens voted for the bill to go through the select committee process, but have now declared their opposition. Submissions were received from many dairy farmers in the area who support the handing over of the scheme to the company.
One farmer wrote “[w]e support the intent of this Bill because, it puts ownership of the scheme infrastructure [sic] where it rightfully belongs. Local ownership and management of this scheme is essential for its effieancy [sic]. Cost structure and environmental awareness are taken seriously. Ability to consult with management easily is essential.”
The select committee has suggested that only the beneficiaries of the scheme will be consulted. Ideas of having a referendum for all of South Taranaki were rejected. Opunake residents – who are beneficiaries of the scheme when their water supply is affected by storms – will also not be consulted.
While one is of course sympathetic to the general idea of 'local control over local resources', it is deeply disturbing that this bill is being pushed through parliament. It only benefits dairy farmers while the Opunake residents, who are generally poorer , still don't have a secure water supply. Maori are of course again the biggest losers (it is Taranaki after all!) and the environment is no better off either. To say that Shane Ardern has a conflict of interest is a huge understatement and to suggest that this isn't about privatising a stream is like saying ((i))ndymedia has got nothing to do with the world-wide-web.