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Nelson’s summer of fires and drought is hopefully at an end with this week’s rain. Three issues deserve comment in the aftermath.

Firstly, my anger at those arrested for arson last week up the Sunrise Valley. We owe a huge thanks to the forestry contractors and Nelson Sun Club for helping police nab these scumbags. Committing arson in a community that has had thousands of people evacuated from their homes and hundreds putting their lives at risk fighting these fires is unforgiveable. It is worse than those burgling homes after Christchurch’s earthquakes in that it is further risking people’s lives. Parliament should consider doubling the penalty for criminal offending of this sort during civil emergencies.

Secondly, the Government needs to come to the aid of owners whose properties have been damaged by the wide fire breaks put through their pasture, fences and driveways. Fire and Emergency NZ did the right thing in creating the breaks to contain the Pigeon Valley blaze during this emergency. However, if the government damages someone’s property, they need to fix it.  

I have been raising this issue on behalf of property owners for over a month but have been ignored by Government Ministers. The uncertainty is adding to affected property owner’s distress as these valley communities try to recover from the fires. The Government is providing hundreds of millions in foreign aid, tens of millions to Northland in politicized grants but is penny pinching in helping Nelson through the worst fires in New Zealand in over 60 years.

The third issue is that we learn from this drought the importance of water storage. We only use 1% of the 10 trillion litres of water that falls and flows through Nelson and Tasman each year.

We in Nelson owe a huge thank you to former Nelson Mayor Peter Malone and his council who had the courage against fierce criticism in the 1980s to build the Maitai Dam. Nelson previously only had 100 million litres of storage up the Brook yet we have used ten times that, or one billion litres, from the Maitai over the past two months.  We would have faced an awful water crisis without the Maitai Dam and insufficient for basic needs like showering, toilet flushing or firefighting. The Maitai Dam also enabled Nelson to assist neighbouring Tasman. The Maitai Dam cost of $10 million was completely paid off in 2005. Ratepayers today just pay for its maintenance and it proves the merits of investing in long term infrastructure.

Some people have advocated home water storage tanks as a better alternative than dams. This ignores the economics. Household tanks cost about $400 per 1,000 litres, the Maitai Dam cost equated to $2.50 per 1,000 litres back then. The Waimea Community Dam cost of $105 million equates to $8 per 1,000 litres.

My thanks to Mayors and Councillors - past and present – who have made the hard decisions to fund water infrastructure. This drought has proved their worth.

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