Saturday, 26 November 2016

Mexican Standoff in Hawkes Bay

Last week Hawkes Bay Regional Council laid a prosecution against Hastings District Council for failing to comply with conditions attached to their consent to take water for the Havelock North water supply. It is a petty act given that all this information would have come out anyway in the government's inquiry into the water contamination. The inquiry deliberately excludes any determination of criminal or civil liability. Maybe we could have kept the tone non-adversarial and could concentrate on learning lessons for the benefit the whole country. But now we can pretty much kiss that hope goodbye .

Anyhow, court cases have a way of forcing information into the public domain, sometimes very inconvenient information. For HDC to breach a consent issued by HBRC that consent first has to be lawful itself. I hope that attention will also turn to HBRC's compliance with the Resource Management (National Environmental Standards for Sources of Human Drinking Water) Regulations 2007. 

I wasn't quite right when I previously said that HBRC only had a general obligation to maintain and enhance the quality of ground and surface water. It turns out they have very specific obligations under these regulations to protect the water being used by HDC for its water supply. In its regional plan and consenting HBRC is not allowed to consent any activity that would contaminate the source of the Havelock North water(1). The only reason I have for querying HBRC's performance in this area is that their own press release referred to current investigations into "water pathways in the local environment". We need to be sure that HBRC had already mapped these pathways eight years ago. If they weren't sure about how water flowed in the Tukituki River catchment then they had no way of implementing the regulations.

It would be useful - either through the Inquiry or the court - to find out just how thoroughly HBRC went about implementing these mandatory standards. It really is premature to be finding fault with Hastings District Council until we know they were definitely getting the quality of water they expected from HBRC.

(1) It's way more complicated than this but you get the general idea.

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