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Business owners from across Central Otago and its rural service towns said there was logical progression from the economic impact on farmers faced with lower water takes from the river to businesses that service the sector, through to schools, sports clubs, and beyond.
At a meeting at Omakau’s Commercial Hotel last week they laid their concerns bare as Friday’s final date for submissions on the Otago Regional Council’s five scenarios for minimum flow options on the river looms.
The flow options range incrementally from 1200 litres per second (option one) up to 3000 litres per second (option five).
The regional council document states at 3000 litres per second, there are clear benefits for ecosystem health, swimming, mahika kai and mana whenua values, and fishing but irrigation reliability "would be very poor" (73%-74%) and farm viability "would be severely stressed".
In general, about 20 people assembled for the meeting with the Otago Daily Times agreed all the scenarios presented could lead not only to stress but to job losses.
Omakau Auto Centre owner Tony Herbert said the figure put forward for review was the minimum economic flow for the river of 1100 litres per second.
If farmers suffered, so did he and his staff of five mechanics.
Manuherikia Reference Group member and irrigator Jan Manson echoed that sentiment and said 1100 litres per second had been agreed upon as a "workable solution" for all water users.
"We propose that as a workable way.
"From a farmers’ perspective that is the number they came with and that is 1100."
The general public needed to know, there were "bigger issues" and they included the whole district, she said.
Mr Herbert said for those in rural service industries, such as him, all of the proposed scenarios above that flow level would hit their bottom lines significantly at best and, at worst, could send some businesses "to the wall".
"There will be communities that are destroyed, the farmers will go to the wall and therefore the businesses as well."
Mechanical engineer Steven Hore, of Cen Eng, said none of the options presented by the ORC would lead to good outcomes for farmers or associated businesses.
Tim Duncan, of Duncan Agricultural Contracting, said most of the options presented by the ORC were "artificial scenarios" and even if minimal flows were set at the upper levels the flow would not be static "like these fellas in Dunedin reckon".
"You can’t beat local knowledge."
Bede Ryan, of Bede Ryan Contracting, said increasing the flow of the river would lead to work in the catchment drying up.
Mr Herbert said that meant job losses, not just in the communities around the Manuherikia River but across Central Otago.
Alexandra motorcycle dealer Bruce Davidson, of Davidson Honda, said his business employed 12 people mostly servicing the rural sector.
His business would be impacted and he believed businesses across all of Central Otago would also be affected.
"This will go all the way to Cromwell."
Farmer Andrew Paterson predicted not just financial losses but a loss of human capital from job losses.
That would impact the muster of about 16 players for Alexandra and Matakanui’s rugby clubs, schools and more as people left the area, he said.
Mr Herbert said a drop in population due to job losses would send all of Central Otago into negative growth.
Submissions on the ORC options close on Friday.