Big decisions to be made by irrigation area landowners

Landowners in the Hunter Downs Irrigation Scheme command area have some big decisions to make.

Information is being gathered and spread by the company responsible for community and farmer communications on the project, Hunter Downs Irrigation Ltd. Update meetings were held in Waimate and Hook last Thursday and in St Andrews the following day.

The company had recommended interested parties take part in irrigation field days run by DairyNZ at Hunter last month and at Ikawai last week.

The scheme already has consent to take and use up to 20.5cumecs from the Waitaki River in a 60,000ha command area from Waimate to Otipua.

It has also been granted $640,000 from the Ministry for Primary Industries' Irrigation Acceleration Fund to help pay for engineering design, an investigation into landowner demand and a fundraising prospectus.

Hunter Downs Irrigation Ltd chairman Andrew Fraser said the farming community was in control of how the scheme would proceed. Without a minimum uptake of 20,000ha to be irrigated, it would not go ahead.

Hunter Downs Development Co Ltd interim chief executive Brian Ellwood said the plan for the upcoming year was to work through the costs, to be in a position to decide whether the water should be pumped or gravity-fed and how far north the scheme should go.

''We need farmer input to unlock the funding from Wellington.''

Four engineering consortiums were submitting tenders for the scheme design, shortlisted down from seven, he said. Their proposals would be received just before Christmas and the successful one would be announced in February.

Farmers would be given budget figures in November next year, Mr Ellwood said. They could then start seeking the appropriate consents to alter their land.

It was possible irrigation could augment the Wainono Lagoon and ''actually help'' improve its problems. There has been strong support for the scheme providing environmental solutions, he said.

Mr Fraser said it was up for debate as to whether the scheme would be farmer-owned or have outside investors.

''We will keep the communication lines open. Farmers will be the first to know when we have any specifics.''

Capital raising would start early in the new year, he said.