Letter: Water project points to need for enforcement of environment laws

Saturday 7 November 2020 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion

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Letter: Water project points to need for enforcement of environment laws
The Turangi valley water intake site, where work was recently carried out as part of the Te Mato Vai project Stage 2 upgrades. 18052919

"When executive government flaunts existing regulations; NES and the Ombudsman are unable to execute their duties; and public petitions are routinely derailed, we don’t need new laws. We need law enforcement."

This week I met a resident in one of the intake valleys. I mentioned that the new water treatment system would be discharging waste into their stream.

Their response: “I eat the koura, and we swim in the stream in summer to cool down. Will it be safe to do that now?”

I couldn’t answer either question. There has been no EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) to answer these questions. These questions have not been put to GHD – the New Zealand firm managing the Te Mato Vai Project. However, they have responded on the reuse of sludge for growing food crops:

“Upon further review of the research we have found that the information does not demonstrate enough depth to reference and does not relate specifically to the local context of Rarotonga.” – GHD, July 2020.

There is also no research on the long-term impacts of disposing of hazardous waste into waterways, because this activity is prohibited in many countries - including the Cook Islands (under the Public Health Act 2004).

The EIA process is not just about the environment, or biodiversity, it’s also about cultural enjoyment. With Te Mato Vai, the “local context” is currently a live experiment on all of the island’s major freshwater streams. The test subjects in the PACl trial are the growers who irrigate crops, the families who live on a waterway, and those who fish and play downstream of the discharge points.

Now National Environment Service are consulting on new policies, with the intent to draft new environmental legislation. When executive government flaunts existing regulations; NES and the Ombudsman are unable to execute their duties; and public petitions are routinely derailed, we don’t need new laws. We need law enforcement.