Protest over Waihi dam’s effect on eel populations

HBRC says no monitoring of eels but no evidence of problem.

HBRC says no monitoring of eels but no evidence of problem.

Wairoa River just upstream from the town in late December 2015. Picture supplied

PROTESTERS claiming a sediment spill at the Eastland Group-owned Waihi Dam last year caused a fall in eel populations in the area will today march in demonstration at the lack of money put towards remediation.

Protest co-organiser Michelle McIlroy said volunteers had tested the water and were monitoring the eel population, and dissected eel organs had been found to contain silt.

They had also noticed a marked reduction in the eel population.

The community was disappointed that “not one cent” of the out-of-court settlement money had gone to fixing the river.

Between 50 to 100 people were expected to join the protest at Alexander Park from midday to march up to the Wairoa District Council building and deliver a petition.

“The general feeling in our community is anger and disappointment at the lack of public consultation around this, with decisions already being made,” Ms McIlroy said.

A $250,000 out-of-court settlement was reached between Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and Eastland Group relating to Environment Court charges for silt discharges from the Waihi Dam, 26km north-west of Wairoa. The dam discharged silt into the Waiau River when sluice gates were damaged in storms in September 2015.

The first part of the settlement involved Eastland Group providing $100,000 of sponsorship to the Wairoa Destination Playground project earlier this year, after the Wairoa District Council agreed that should be the recipient.

The remainder would be provided through Eastland Group Wairoa Community Fund, which will contribute $15,000 a year towards Wairoa-focused events and activities, for the next 10 years.

HBRC water quality and ecology scientist Andy Hicks said the council continued to monitor water quality and ecology at sites upstream and downstream of the Waihi dam discharges but there was no evidence of a persistent impact.

“At the time, the dam discharges added very high levels of suspended sediment to the river (that is very muddy water). The effects from the extra sediment ceased fairly soon after the gates were fixed, so were short-lived. Any increase in deposited sediment from the dam discharge was undetectable, measured against the very high existing impact from the general catchment.

“There were already high levels of deposited sediment in the Waihi River and broader Wairoa catchments.”

No monitoring of eels, but no problem detected

Dr Hicks said the council did not monitor eels specifically, but it had not seen any evidence that the eel life in the Wairoa River was in a poor state.

HBRC chairman Rex Graham said his personal vision was for a regional park from the Wairoa Bridge lighthouse to the sea.

“The Wairoa community wanted to focus first on a high quality playground for their community, supported by $100,000 from Eastland Group. The playground is the centre of a bigger plan for Wairoa.

“The Regional Council carries out work to improve the health of Wairoa River. In some places this has already included willow management and riverside plantings.”

Eastland Group chief executive Matt Todd said the effects of the spill had been significant but short-lived.

“At the time, there was a significant impact on both the river and the community who enjoy the river, which we deeply regret. Fortunately, the effects on the water caused by this particular event have been short lived, as ongoing testing by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council shows.

“The Wairoa River system carries a very high sediment burden which routinely increases during flood events, and it appears that the aquatic ecosystem is able to adapt and recover.”

The company was working with the Wairoa District Council on updating consents for the dam in the future.

“Earlier this year, HBRC and Eastland Group signed an out-of-court settlement that will directly benefit the people of Wairoa. So far, we’ve contributed to two major local projects: the destination playground and stage three of the museum’s Kakapa project.

“As agreed with Wairoa District Council, the $15,000 annual fund will, from 2018, be contestable. We look forward to receiving applications from groups across the community, including those involved in safeguarding water quality.”

PROTESTERS claiming a sediment spill at the Eastland Group-owned Waihi Dam last year caused a fall in eel populations in the area will today march in demonstration at the lack of money put towards remediation.

Protest co-organiser Michelle McIlroy said volunteers had tested the water and were monitoring the eel population, and dissected eel organs had been found to contain silt.

They had also noticed a marked reduction in the eel population.

The community was disappointed that “not one cent” of the out-of-court settlement money had gone to fixing the river.

Between 50 to 100 people were expected to join the protest at Alexander Park from midday to march up to the Wairoa District Council building and deliver a petition.

“The general feeling in our community is anger and disappointment at the lack of public consultation around this, with decisions already being made,” Ms McIlroy said.

A $250,000 out-of-court settlement was reached between Hawke’s Bay Regional Council and Eastland Group relating to Environment Court charges for silt discharges from the Waihi Dam, 26km north-west of Wairoa. The dam discharged silt into the Waiau River when sluice gates were damaged in storms in September 2015.

The first part of the settlement involved Eastland Group providing $100,000 of sponsorship to the Wairoa Destination Playground project earlier this year, after the Wairoa District Council agreed that should be the recipient.

The remainder would be provided through Eastland Group Wairoa Community Fund, which will contribute $15,000 a year towards Wairoa-focused events and activities, for the next 10 years.

HBRC water quality and ecology scientist Andy Hicks said the council continued to monitor water quality and ecology at sites upstream and downstream of the Waihi dam discharges but there was no evidence of a persistent impact.

“At the time, the dam discharges added very high levels of suspended sediment to the river (that is very muddy water). The effects from the extra sediment ceased fairly soon after the gates were fixed, so were short-lived. Any increase in deposited sediment from the dam discharge was undetectable, measured against the very high existing impact from the general catchment.

“There were already high levels of deposited sediment in the Waihi River and broader Wairoa catchments.”

No monitoring of eels, but no problem detected

Dr Hicks said the council did not monitor eels specifically, but it had not seen any evidence that the eel life in the Wairoa River was in a poor state.

HBRC chairman Rex Graham said his personal vision was for a regional park from the Wairoa Bridge lighthouse to the sea.

“The Wairoa community wanted to focus first on a high quality playground for their community, supported by $100,000 from Eastland Group. The playground is the centre of a bigger plan for Wairoa.

“The Regional Council carries out work to improve the health of Wairoa River. In some places this has already included willow management and riverside plantings.”

Eastland Group chief executive Matt Todd said the effects of the spill had been significant but short-lived.

“At the time, there was a significant impact on both the river and the community who enjoy the river, which we deeply regret. Fortunately, the effects on the water caused by this particular event have been short lived, as ongoing testing by the Hawke’s Bay Regional Council shows.

“The Wairoa River system carries a very high sediment burden which routinely increases during flood events, and it appears that the aquatic ecosystem is able to adapt and recover.”

The company was working with the Wairoa District Council on updating consents for the dam in the future.

“Earlier this year, HBRC and Eastland Group signed an out-of-court settlement that will directly benefit the people of Wairoa. So far, we’ve contributed to two major local projects: the destination playground and stage three of the museum’s Kakapa project.

“As agreed with Wairoa District Council, the $15,000 annual fund will, from 2018, be contestable. We look forward to receiving applications from groups across the community, including those involved in safeguarding water quality.”

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