Mediation on river flow progressing

The Kye Burn River.
The Kye Burn River.
Environment Court mediation talks around residual flow rates for the Kye Burn are progressing well and an outcome may be decided soon, the involved parties say.

Since October, the Otago Fish & Game Council has been in discussion with Kyeburn Catchment Ltd (KCL) over residual flow rates for the river after appealing an Otago Regional Council (ORC) decision, following a three-day consent hearing in June.

The hearing considered the catchment group’s consent to take and use surface water from the Kye Burn for irrigation, storage and stock water as part of the process to replace 34 water permits which are due to expire in 2021.

KCL is made up of 16 farmers and will be responsible for the administration of any permit conditions imposed by the regional council.

Part of the process in upgrading permits requires setting residual flow rates — the amount of water left after water has been taken — at four points along the river.

In May last year, an ORC report recommended a residual flow of 200 litres per second at the Scott’s Lane take site of the river’s main stem, but a later addendum in June said the same rate should also apply to the three other sites located downstream.

The ORC then changed its recommendation again during the consent hearing to KCL’s original request for a main stem residual flow of 180l at the Scott’s Lane site and set a reduction to 160 litres at the most downstream site.

Fish & Game appealed the ORC’s decision and official mediation talks began on October 20.

Before mediation talks, Fish & Game held the position that a mainstream flow between 200 litres and 300 litres was necessary.

According to Fish & Game council documents from its November meeting, the river’s mean annual low flow rate has been recalculated to 490 litres, meaning the ORC’s proposed residual flows were 33% and 37% of this.

Chief executive Niall Watson said the discussions were confidential but Fish and Game was "pleased with discussions we’re having".

KCL director Hamish Mackenzie said all parties involved with the process were now "reading from the same page".

He expected an outcome in the near future.

"They’re progressing really well from our point of view."

KCL also had support from the Department of Conservation and local iwi, he said.

The ORC last week said dry conditions were having an effect on rivers around Otago, and the Kye Burn was at its lowest since records began five years ago, with a flow rate of 250l/s.

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