ORC chairman explains background to process

The Otago Regional Council is considering five flow options for the Manuherikia River which range...
The Otago Regional Council is considering five flow options for the Manuherikia River which range from 1200 litres per second to 3000 litres per second. PHOTO: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
The Otago Regional Council has answered criticism of its handling of the Manuherikia River minimum flows process and consultation on the eve of the public release of its findings.

The council is scheduled to release its summary of submissions tomorrow on an issue which has polarised the opinions of users and interest groups.

Public submissions closed on June 18, with those results already made available to key stakeholder the Manuherekia Reference Group (MRG).

The five flow options tabled range from 1200 litres per second up to 3000 litres per second.

In a statement, chairman Andrew Noone said it was important to understand the background.

In 2018, the council passed a resolution that any proposed minimum flow change needed to follow the process outlined in the national policy statement on freshwater management, including identifying freshwater management units (FMUs), catchment management objectives, environmental flows and allocation limits.

That required data collection and modelling, dependent on time and season, he said.

After views were heard from parties, the council elected to consult them on the best procedure, resulting in the creation of the reference group and advisory groups.

The reference group’s intent was to involve the community in discussion and work collectively to develop freshwater management options — something the council saw as crucial to the management unit process and development of its land and water regional plan, Mr Noone said.

This enabled understanding between parties and was not focused on finding "a solution".

"This is important, given finding and implementing solutions for water quality and water quantity is a long-term challenge that will unfold over a span of years."

The council looked to improve its approach to developing water management scenarios, and would take what was learned through the Manuherikia process into future engagement with other management units and rohe, he said.

"The MRG discussions, along with community input, helped ORC develop the five scenarios for freshwater management in the Manuherikia that were tested with the wider community during the most recent consultation."

Mr Noone said the frustration expressed by some parties was understandable but at all times it had been clear the notification date for the land and water plan was 2023.

"Therefore, time has been afforded to the MRG to ensure it has the best information, including science, to inform discussion and consideration of scenarios."

The division in views had played out at every point in the process, which was expected.

The Manuherikia was a complex catchment, with competing values and drivers. While every attempt had been made to narrow issues, the council understood it was the freshwater commissioners who would determine the way forward for the catchment based on science and the legislative framework.

Elected members were responsible for what went into the land and water regional plan for notification by the end of 2023, Mr Noone said.

"At which point there will be further opportunity for the public to have their say through the notification process and hearings."

jared.morgan@odt.co.nz

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