In 1981, New Zealand recognized 16 rivers and lakes as “Outstanding” and protected them in perpetuity.
When it became clear that there were plans to develop hydroelectric dams on almost every large river in New Zealand in the 1970s, several groups set up the Wild and Scenic Rivers Committee.
In 1981, the government passed the Wild and Scenic Rivers amendment to the Water and Soil Conservation Act of 1967 to ensure the conservation of wild and scenic values of a river. The protection comes in the form of National Water Conservation Orders (WCOs).
A WCO is the highest level of protection that New Zealand can afford to a body of freshwater. WCOs are described as the “National Parks of waterways,” and local councils must abide by WCO rules when considering resource consents that involve that waterway. A WCO prioritizes protecting any identified outstanding features such as fisheries, wildlife, Maori, cultural, recreational, wild and scenic or scientific values. WCOs exist in perpetuity, unless amended.
Once the outstanding values are recognised, the WCO sets out restrictions on water use to ensure that the outstanding resource is maintained, such as the maintenance of river flows and water quality, prohibitions on damming, and restrictions on in-river works.
Thanks to Parineeta Dandekar of SANDRP for her input on this article.
Photo: The Ahuriri River ner Omarama in Canterbury Region, South Island of New Zealand. Photo courtesy of Krzysztof Golik via Wikimedia Commons.