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Watchdogs at odds over Canterbury water

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 19/06/2016

Environment Canterbury hasn't prosecuted a single irrigator for violating restrictions despite more than 350 serious breaches and recidivist overwatering.

Environment group Forest & Bird has obtained ECan data for the 2013-14 season which it says show "the massive scale of water-crime in Canterbury".

Other councils were taking water theft seriously, but in Canterbury irrigators seem to be ignore the rules with impunity, Forest & Bird says.

There were 376 breaches which were significant non-compliance, including hundreds without the required working water meters, but nothing stronger than an abatement notice was issued.

The figure showed some something is seriously wrong with ECan's culture, says advocacy manager Kevin Hackwell.

"The people of Canterbury should be appalled, and I think they are," he told Newshub's Paul Henry programme.

"Do your job properly, look after the public interests and our waterways."

But ECan says it is dealing with 5900 water consents - three times more than any other region - and it is difficult to prosecute. No investigations had found enough evidence to support a court case.

"We do take non-compliance very seriously, particularly around water use," ECan's Richard Purdon said in a statement.

The council had found most people wanted to meet national water meter standards, which started in 2012, and the council had been working with irrigators to come up to speed.

"Given the scale of the task in Canterbury this has been a huge job - it is now largely in place and our focus is on dealing with the small number of people who have not complied," he said.

ECan started to take a harder line last month and wanted everyone to have the right meter by July, he said.

It had identified 500 irrigators who hadn't installed meters. Last month they were warned they faced fines or infringement notices.

The cases highlighted by Forest & Bird:

* A repeat offender continuously overused water throughout three summers. Received an abatement notice

* An irrigator found to have illegally uplifted 31 million litres of water from the Manuka Creek over 42 separate days, mainly during a dry spell. An abatement notice

* One person took so much water, 187 million litres in a year, ECan thought the water meter was broken for the third season in a row. An abatement notice.

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