First steps for Lake Ellesmere

( First step taken to recognise additional outstanding values for Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora)

Environment Minister Nick Smith today approved the joint application from Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu (Ngāi Tahu) and the Department of Conservation (DoC) to amend the Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora) Water Conservation Order (WCO) to recognise additional outstanding values.

“There is a strong case for additional protection of Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora). It was identified as the second most polluted lake in the country in the recent report on water quality. It is the worst in the South Island and for many Cantabrians symbolises the problem of water quality mismanagement,” Dr Smith said.

“The current WCO, which has been in place for 20 years, only identifies wildlife habitat as an outstanding feature.”

The new application proposes changes to the WCO to ensure active management of the lake to protect a number of values including indigenous vegetation, fisheries and cultural characteristics, in addition to wildlife habitat, whilst still recognising the needs of farming through the continuation of a lake management protocol.

“The Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2010 provides a streamlined process for amending water conservation orders. This application meets the requirements in the Act and so I have referred it to Environment Canterbury for advertising, submissions and public hearings.

“These water conservation order changes are part of what is needed to be considered to improve and provide greater protection to Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora),” Dr Smith said.

“Lake Ellesmere should be a Canterbury icon, not an eyesore. Further steps, as well as considering changes to the water conservation order will be needed to improve this lake. I look forward to an ongoing dialogue with Ngai Tahu, Environment Canterbury, the Selwyn District Council and local stakeholders on how we can clean-up and better manage this important lake.”

The Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2010 makes Environment Canterbury responsible for hearing all new or amended Water Conservation Order applications forwarded by the Minister for the Environment.

Environment Canterbury will shortly appoint commissioners to hear the application. It is expected the application will be publicly notified next month and a call for submissions made.

Questions & Answers

What is a water conservation order?
A water conservation order (WCO) can prohibit or restrict a regional council from issuing new water and discharge permits, although it cannot affect existing permits.

Once a WCO is made, councils need to ensure that their regional policy statements and regional/district plans are not inconsistent with its provisions. Councils cannot grant water, coastal or discharge permits that are contrary to the restrictions, prohibitions or provisions of a WCO.

A WCO can apply to rivers, lakes, streams, ponds, wetlands or aquifers. They can cover fresh water or geothermal water.

What do water conservation orders recognise?
A water conservation order (WCO) recognises the outstanding amenity or intrinsic values that a specific water body provides, in either a natural or modified state. WCOs can be used to preserve that natural state, or to protect characteristics such as:

· the water body’s value as a habitat or fishery

· its wild and scenic nature

· its value for recreational, historic, spiritual, cultural or scenic purposes.

3. What changes are being sort in the Lake Ellesmere/Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora) WCO amendment application?
The Applicants (the applicant) are jointly Te Rūnanga o Ngāi Tahu (Ngāi Tahu) and the Department of Conservation (DoC).

The changes being sought in the application are:

· To add four more outstanding features:

o Indigenous wetland vegetation complex,

o Customary fisheries,

o Ngāi Tahu historical, spiritual and cultural characteristics,

o Significance in accordance with tikanga Ngāi Tahu, including in respect of kaitiakitanga and mahinga kai.

· To allow the artificial opening of the lake between 1 April and 15 June each year;

· Changing the datum referred to from the mean sea level as at 1988 to the 1937 Lyttelton vertical datum;

· Changing the references from Lake Ellesmere to Te Waihora/Lake Ellesmere;

· Changing the references from Water and Soil Conservation Act 1967 to Resource Management Act 1991;

· Changing the references from water rights to resource consents; and

· Amending the level at which damming, stop banking and reclamation can occur.

What is the process for making changes to Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora)?
Environment Canterbury will publicly notify the application for an amendment to the Lake Ellesmere water conservation order and call for submissions from the public on the application.
Hearing Commissioners will be appointed by the Environment Canterbury Commissioners.
The Hearing Commissioners will convene a hearing to allow the applicants and submitters who requested to be heard to provide more detail on their submissions. The hearing will also give the Hearing Commissioners the opportunity to ask questions.
The Hearing Commissioners will then make a recommendation to the Minister for the Environment, who will then make the ultimate decision on whether the WCO should be amended.
What is the role of Environment Canterbury in the process?
The Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2010 came into force on 13 April 2010. This Act changes the Resource Management Act 1991 WCO process and makes Environment Canterbury responsible for hearing WCO applications forwarded by the Minister for the Environment.

All new or amended water conservation orders in Canterbury are subject to new criteria as a result of the Act:

· Subject to Part 2 of the RMA

Particular regard must be had to the visions and principles of the CWMS as set out in Schedule 1, Part 1 of the Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Act 2010
Have regard to section 207(a)-(c) RMA
6. Why change the current Water Conservation Order?
A technical group concluded the current WCO does not provide for all the values associated with Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora). Given this, it is proposed that outstanding values which warrant protection by the WCO be expanded to recognise four additional values.

The current WCO identifies wildlife habitat as the only outstanding feature. Wildlife is defined under the Wildlife Act 1953 and is very specific excluding a number of other natural values. In the case of Lake Ellesmere (Te Waihora) the wildlife habitat mainly refers to that of birds, although it may include invertebrates, reptiles, etc.

Unfortunately, the definition of “wildlife” under the Wildlife Act 1953 does not include aquatic species such as tuna (eel) or pātiki (flounder). This means that the management of the lake water level carried out under the provisions of the current WCO is generally limited to providing for birdlife habitat.

The way in which the lake is currently managed has been developed to protect wildlife habitat while recognising the needs of farming.

Media Release on 27 Decemeber 2010 from Nick Smith, Environment Minster