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A feasibility study estimated to cost roughly $1.5 million is the next stage of developing and safeguarding irrigation supplies in the Manuherikia catchment.
The Manuherikia Catchment Water Strategy Group was set up in 2011 to represent the interests of the six irrigation companies and water users in the Manuherikia and Ida valleys.
Results from a pre-feasibility study to identify the most cost-effective, efficient and sustainable options for irrigation and water users in the catchment were outlined at meetings last month. Feedback was still being sought from irrigators, group chairman Allan Kane, of Wanaka, said.
''Involving the wider catchment is pretty much a prerequisite to getting Government and regional council funding,'' he said. The development options covered in the study included a new dam at Mt Ida, a new dam at Hope Creek, Poolburn, raising the Falls Dam by 5m and upgrading the existing infrastructure or raising the Falls Dam by 27m, to allow about 14,000ha of new land to be irrigated.
Raising the dam by at least 5m and upgrading the infrastructure had to be done to renew the existing resource consents, Mr Kane said.
''Whether there's sufficient interest in the upper Manuherikia to look at raising it by 27m is something we're going to canvass the farmers' interest in.''
The feasibility study would explore the options in greater detail, including the per hectare costs for current irrigators and potential new ones.
Irrigators would have to raise some of the funds for the feasibility study but Mr Kane hoped about half of the funding would come from the Government's Irrigation Acceleration Fund, with the Otago Regional Council hopefully contributing as well.
The final cost of the study would be about $1.5 million. He hoped to have a more detailed brief within a fortnight and call for tenders and begin the study by the middle of the year, funding permitting.
Although the group started the project believing the catchment was short of water, the early study revealed there was more than enough water.
''The problem is that it is not there when irrigators need it. The solution is not more water, but more storage.''