Environment Waikato’s submission on legislation to enact the Waikato-Tainui co-management deal for the Waikato River says the agreement is positive for the river’s health but needs the details sorted out to ensure co-management runs smoothly.
"Last year’s ground-breaking agreement between the Crown and Waikato-Tainui over future management of the Waikato River between Karapiro and Te Puaha o Waikato (Port Waikato) is a huge milestone. It has important implications for other such agreements in our region," said council chairman Peter Buckley.
"Environment Waikato strongly supports the agreement’s focus on the health of the Waikato River, which aligns with the council’s responsibilities to protect and sustainably manage our region’s natural resources."
Under the agreement, more than $200 million is to be put into a contestable fund over 30 years and will be available for work that directly contributes to the clean-up of the river.
The council also supports a Vision and Strategy for the health of the entire river, which involves EW, the Crown, Waikato-Tainui, and other iwi who are in the process of negotiating co-management agreements with the Crown covering other parts of the Waikato River.
However, Cr Buckley said EW is keen to clarify the detail of how co-management with Waikato-Tainui will work in practice before enacting legislation is finalised. "Sorting the detail will help the new system run smoothly," he said.
"For example, the current draft of the legislation requires more work by local government. We want the Crown to ensure that the costs of any extra responsibilities we have under the settlement, or future iwi settlements, are not met by Waikato ratepayers."
The council has already spent about $230,000 supporting the settlement with $46,000 reimbursed by the Crown. "We believe another $100,000 should be reimbursed for direct work requested of us by the Crown. Also, we expect our annual direct costs of implementing the settlement to be about $500,000 for the next several years, and feel this should be covered by the Crown," Cr Buckley said.
The agreement makes provision for the statutory powers of local government to be shared by a new statutory management board or the Waikato Raupatu River Trust.
"EW feels this has some potential implications for local democratic oversight of how those powers are exercised, and believes considerable detailed work is required to carefully manage any transfers. We are also very keen to avoid the settlement creating bureaucracy that duplicates efforts to restore the river’s health."
Cr Buckley said that it was very positive for the river that, once all these sorts of details are addressed, there would be put in place an important new set of arrangements and resources to help mitigate the environmental impacts of agriculture and other human activities on the Waikato River.
"Environment Waikato will continue to take a constructive approach to making co-management work for the Waikato River, which is a taonga for all cultures in our region."