Opinion: Running a pipeline through an endangered kiwi sanctuary might not be so bad

OPINION: At first glance, a water pipeline through a sanctuary for New Zealand's rarest kiwi sounds like a really bad thing.

In fact, the whole concept of a private company taking 800 million litres a month – roughly 1 billion water bottles – from some of our most picture-perfect backcountry gets New Zealanders really riled up.

But is it an ideological opposition rather than one based on facts and evidence?

Are we justified in hating a pipeline running through a taxpayer-funded kiwi sanctuary despite an expert deciding the impact on the birds will be negligible?

Dr John McLennan has a Queen's Service Medal for his decades of kiwi conservation and research.

Okuru Enterprises commissioned him to write the report on the pipeline's impact on the Haast Tokoeka kiwi and he concluded it would have minimal impact.

In fact, he said the kiwi would benefit from a pest control programme funded by the company, and may end up better off than their counterparts in surrounding areas.

There are 400 Haast Tokoeka left. Thirty-three of them live in the Tuning Fork Catchment and just six are thought to live downstream of Okuru's proposed water intake.

Because the kiwi move around a lot it's expected just 1 percent of their habitat will be affected by the pipeline's installation.

Okuru chairman Peter Roselli told me the company shareholders are West Coast locals who care about the Haast Tokoeka just as much as anyone.

But he wasn't aware there was a kiwi sanctuary covering 11,000 ha of the area he's proposing to take water from, and when I told him the pipeline ran through it he didn't believe that could be correct.

The intake is outside the Mount Aspiring National Park boundary, he explained.

Yes, but the national park and the sanctuary are two separate things, I replied.

It's worrying the company chairman wasn't aware of that when a condition of the land use consent is protecting the Haast Tokoeka.

But he said the company will work with the Department of Conservation on a kiwi management plan, involving a review of all information about the Haast tokoeka, updating mitigation measures to protect them and funding the eradication of pests.

With a Department of Conservation that's withering under a lack of funding, is this the future of conservation?

A company gaining the rights to a resource in exchange for helping preserve a precious bird.

Is that necessarily a bad thing?

Isobel Ewing is a Newshub political reporter.