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'Project Aqua'
Meridian's destructive scheme

Elizabeth Brooke-Carr



 Something dreadful has happened.   Meridian is meddling in my life, trying to come between me and my river.   Our bond has always been special - a quiet, secret joy flowing through my life, nourishing my senses, creating - as only love can do - a new me with its vital energy.   And now this interloper comes along, stirring up crosscurrents.   It wants far too much power and is set to destroy our relationship.   Meridian, with its ironical name and grand, destructive schemes, has come to woo the Waitaki and I'm afraid it will end in heartbreak.   It wants to throttle my river with a concrete tourniquet, dam its pulsing arteries, reduce its braided streams to a trickle in a single channel, and change the quality of its life-sustaining water.   I fear for it's life and I am aghast at the outrageous proposals of Project Aqua.   It's not easy, or wise, to oppose the fiscally-based Project Aqua on emotional grounds.   Rational, logical arguments and counter-arguments about strategic allocation of water resources or increased energy demands in the future seem to fare much better.   But it's equally hard to downplay my emotional attachment to the Waitaki.   There has to be room for affairs of the heart in this debate.   A place for that deep sense of connection with the natural world which is both exquisitely sensual and profoundly spiritual.

On Waitangi day, just before dawn, a poignant time for remembering, I drove home to my river.   I stood, with others, on the boulder bank at the end of Kaik Road to celebrate not only our national day but also the life of our meandering, beautiful Waitaki river.   I watched with awe as the sun rose up from the sea and stained the roiling, merging waters with its amber tints.   An impressive and wonder-filled sight.   Later, I leaned over the side of the bridge up on the highway near the place where I used to live.   Into the stream I tossed some flowers that I had picked from the briar roses growing wild where our farnily garden had once flourished.   I watched them bobbing away on the current.   And I thought to myself: How can we bear the loss of my river's flow to Project Aqua?   How do you factor in the cost of natural beauty and spiritual experience?   What will be left for my grandchildren and future generations?   I will tell them stories, of course.   Memories of my childhood by the river.   They will learn that their great-grandfather was a keeper of the old combined road and rail bridge across the Waitaki.   I will describe my first experience of walking across that almost mile-long bridge, peering down through the gaps between the sleepers on the deck and growing giddy with the tumultuous din and motion of the turbid waters beneath.   They will know that I paddled in its languid backwaters which snaked around the bottom of our garden on its way to the sea; that I learned to respect my parents' warnings about its swift and dangerous currents and its undermined banks all strictly off-limits; that I grew to understand its cycle of moods from turgid, springtime floods to winter meagreness; that I ate salmon and trout caught by keen anglers in its streams, and stood on its stone shoulders listening to fishy stories longer than a man's outstretched arms; that I feasted on lip-staining blackberries growing wild on its banks; that I watched the antics of wheeling, raucous gulls as they raised their young on island colonies out in the middle of the river bed; that I lay in my own bed at night and slept soundly within earshot of the river's lullaby glide path.   Oh, yes, I will be bold and tell my grandchildren about my affair with the beautiful, braided Waitaki.   But will they believe me if all that is left for them is a dribble of water in a defiled landscape?   Might they think that I am just a sentimental old woman embellishing a long-dead romance?   As I see it, we can't afford to run that risk.   We know how to replace hydro electricity; we don't know how to replace a river.


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