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The Green Party's plans to charge for irrigation water would be a death blow for Central Otago if implemented, a farming accountant said yesterday.
Alexandra-based Ibbotson Cooney accountant George Collier said the Greens' policy was "crazy", while Central Otago Mayor and irrigation scheme manager Tony Lepper described it as "a joke".
Green Party co-leader Russel Norman launched the three-part policy, aimed at cleaning up the country's rivers and lakes, on Sunday.
A "fair charge" for irrigation water would cut the overuse of water, he said.
A charge of 10c per 1000 litres would raise $370 million-$570 million a year, which would be used to support river clean-up projects.
Mr Lepper is manager of the Earnscleugh Irrigation Scheme, one of about a dozen irrigation schemes in Central Otago.
The Earnscleugh scheme supplies 110 landowners and covers 1100ha. Irrigators are charged about $51 per hectare a year.
"With the addition of other small charges, our income is $65,000 per annum, and with this we run a fantastic co-operative irrigation scheme that is of tremendous benefit to the Central Otago economy," he said.
"Under the Greens' new policy and proposed rate of 10c per 1000 litres, we would have to fund an additional $1.76 million a year, from our landowners.
"You do not have to be a genius to work out what this would do to the viability of our local horticulture and farming businesses."
Mr Collier said a charge for irrigation water would effectively shut down irrigation schemes except for the odd dairy operation.
"Boosting the unemployment rate would be one significant end result of that particular policy."
Pastoral production and horticulture were among the district's biggest earners.
"At the heart of both of them - horticulture and pastoral production - is some irrigation and it's a very important part of the mix," Mr Collier said.
There were other ways of getting the result the Greens wanted - cleaner rivers- without penalising irrigators.
"It can be done so every part of society is the winner, but it takes strong leadership at local and at national level."