We often hear the terms “institutionalised racism”, “institutionalised Sexism”, etc., but I will use the term “institutionalised theft” when it comes to OUR water.

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It really is “Theft”
by Rex N. Gibson


I recently presented a submission on behalf of the N.Z. Federation of Freshwater Anglers to Environment Canterbury on their Long Term Plan. I will not repeat it all here. It is a matter of public record and accessible on ECan’s website. I also went along and spoke to the submission. I was supported by Larry Burke, the new President of N.Z. Salmon Anglers Association. We emphasised the need to value conserving water volumes as well as repairing water quality. As you can predict the reception was varied among the councillors. Subsequent private conversations with some who were present have confirmed this.

It is clear that the issues which concern fisher folk polarise the good people of ECan. We were firm, but I do not think we were rude. Perhaps “rudeness” would get us noticed but it is always a matter of juggling the benefits of a “satisfying statement” with those of an “effective statement”.

Like most of my colleagues I have a deep seated hope that a return to democracy for ECan in the 2019 elections will be the start of our region’s (country’s) “water recovery”. Only a return to the National’s unsustainable water policies could derail this. The last government took the position that water belonged to nobody. I have always promoted the view that the water belongs to everybody. In 2017 I circulated to the Federation executive members a statement from the IWI Leaders’ Group Chair that also supported this view. It seemed that only the National led government was out of step. They are now history, but nobody seems to have told ECan.

The older readers will know what I mean when I suggest that the inertia that was characterised by Sir Humphrey Appleby’s management, in T.V.’s “Yes Minister”, has infected the staff there. If water belongs to us all, then why is one industry allowed to purloin it without meaningful restriction, and then spray it around, “willy nilly”, whenever it suits them? Every person who has driven around Canterbury has seen irrigators working in 30 degree nor’ west days when evaporation is at its maximum. I guess when each irrigator section costs in excess of $50,000 many industrial dairy farm operators feel that they need to use them to their maximum capacity.



We often hear the terms “institutionalised racism”, “institutionalised Sexism”, etc., but I will use the term “institutionalised theft” when it comes to OUR water.

Most people have got concerned about the water bottling issue, including me, but there are farms in ECan’s territory that use more that all the regions water bottling enterprises combined. They would have been laughing into the G & T when the public got side-tracked on the bottling issue. The water situation is simple for fisherfolk. It needs to be in a continuous flow if the food chains that sustain our target fish are to flourish. The fishers once considered it a right. For the dairy industry their flow of water is also seen to be a right, even if not needed. The rye grass monoculture gets “sprayed” even when not needed in many cases. Deliberate wastage or “loss by negligence” is theft of the resource in my understanding.

In March 2017 I wrote an article entitled “Where has all the water gone”. It was reproduced in six fishing publications across the country. A key point in this was that ECan’s 26 coastal rivers in February 2017 had a total flow of just 18 Cumecs; that is equivalent to 18 bath tubs of water spread across the 26 rivers. Canterbury has a population of about half a million and another million or so tourists visiting the region each year. Even Nick Smith’s manipulation of definitions could not fit 500,000+ people into 18 bath tubs of “swimmable” water. The trout and salmon certainly could not get a look in here either. As a comparison the Wairau, Oreti, Mataura, Taieri and Motuka each also had more than these 26 Canterbury rivers combined flow.

Below: Note the CPW pipe size;


In their latest Annual Report, the Central Plains Water scheme states that it extracted 52 million cumecs of water from the Rakaia River alone in the year. CPW is just one source of the great water theft. Their Rakaia extraction is almost six times what those 26 Canterbury rivers, mentioned above, had left in their February flow. The next photo shows the pipes snaking across the plains;

I have written and spoken elsewhere about why realistic minimum flows are necessary; gravel movement, aeration, maintenance of the food webs , and maintenance of water temperatures that are cool enough to sustain life, have all been covered. It is now time to again question that right of industries to just “help themselves” to our water. Were you asked if you agreed to this misappropriation by ECan, and other regional authorities around the country, to favoured parties?

Below: The pipes are finally buried and out of sight;