Water a key Dunstan issue

Tarras Water Ltd's failed attempt to get regional council funding for its irrigation scheme this year has highlighted just how controversial water has become in the Dunstan region.

At the same time the area's population is growing and to ensure full representation throughout the region, the Otago Regional Council has increased its representation in the area from two seats to three. The seats have attracted a record number of candidates for the constituency. With veteran councillor Duncan Butcher retiring, there will be at least two new councillors at the table after the election, three if incumbent Gerry Eckhoff is ousted.

Those who are successful will face some tough challenges in coming years as the district's many mining permits to take water run out in 2021 and transition to Resource Management Act consents and the impact of new water regulations governing run-off and extraction kick in - not to mention many hours on the road to attend meetings in Dunedin.

The Otago Daily Times posed these questions to the seven candidates.

1. Is the council doing sufficient to control water quality and deal with allocation issues?

2. How much involvement should the regional council have in irrigation projects?

Jon Mitchell
Jon Mitchell
Jon Mitchell (49)
Queenstown Lakes District Council emergency management co-ordinator, Massey University Joint Centre for Disaster Research Wellington business development manager.

1. No. Water is the life-blood of our local environment, communities and economy. Water quality across the region and allocation of water rights in Central Otago have not been managed well, for too long. A more collaborative model should be introduced, bringing a wider range of interests together to manage water locally. Making sure that ORC has the right resources, culture, commitment and relationships to protect our most vital resource is absolutely critical.

2. As a constructive regulator. The regional council is required to control potential negative environmental impacts, in particular water protection responsibilities. Direct financial involvement in irrigation projects would undermine ORC's credibility. Nearly investing in irrigation recently indicates that the regional council needs to better understand its role. I will work to lead ORC in managing our water so it is used efficiently, while more effectively monitoring impacts and protecting our water for future generations.

Murray MacMillan
Murray MacMillan
Murray MacMillan (68)

1. Water quality will undoubtedly be dealt with by Plan Change 6A. When all our towns come up to speed with waste water treatment, there will be a huge difference to the quality of our waterways. Fair allocation for irrigation could become a future problem. We are blessed with significant natural resources in our waterways. I believe the regional council should recognise this and allow reasonable access to this resource to encourage growth and development.

2. I do not believe that the Otago Regional Council should be involved in individual irrigation company shareholding or finances. Its role should be feasibility studies and planning, especially as regards water storage, in order that the council helps but does not finance the private sector to develop the resources of the region through irrigation.

Chris Pascoe
Chris Pascoe
Chris Pascoe (51)
Commercial skipper, farm manager and real estate agent.

1. The council is moving in the right direction with water quality but I am concerned with the workability of Plan Change 6A which is currently under appeal by numerous individuals and organisations. The expiration of mining rights in 2021 is a huge issue for the Dunstan constituency and I think the council needs to be more proactive in dealing with this issue. Groundwater allocation is finite and controls need to be maintained.

2. I see it as being essential council being significantly involved in the facilitation of irrigation projects. Such facilitation should be centred around helping to find solutions workable under the RMA legislation and thus consent able and acceptable to the community at large. The ORC's long-term plan provides for the allocation of grant money for such projects and I agree in principle with this policy, as opposed to significant shareholdings in specific projects.

Graeme Bell
Graeme Bell
Graeme Bell (62)
Company director

1. Intense farming practices, especially dairy and dairy runoff but also beef cattle under big sprinkler systems and even pigs and poultry, will continue to challenge our water quality standards and the ORC is all we've got to ensure a balanced approach to regulation and environmental standards. As we approach 2021 and the reallocation of traditional rights [in] inland Otago, the ORC's approach will be sorely tested. A good feel for community values will be essential.

2. As the allocator of water and the standard-setter for water takes and runoff quality, the ORC has a pivotal role in the management and development of irrigation schemes. Direct investment is another issue: there are issues of conflict, and public good interests to be preserved. Effective consultation processes, a good understanding of how rural communities work and a balanced viewpoint that trades off cost and benefit from an all-of-community perspective will be essential.

Andrew Rutherford
Andrew Rutherford
Andrew Rutherford (36)
Company director

1. Decisions about water issues should be dealt with primarily at a community level, for instance with farmers among a jury of their peers, with the regional council only for monitoring and enforcement. The downstream effects of changes in water quality and quantity need to be negotiated between different communities, with compensation payable, if necessary.

2. A cost-benefit analysis as to the advantage to the wider Otago economy needs to be undertaken to guide as to whether the regional council should fund any particular project. Where projects are undertaken commercially on private land the council should respect the right of owners to develop their property.

Gary Kelliher
Gary Kelliher
Gary Kelliher (41)
Sheep and deer farmer

1. The implementation of Plan Change 6A will set in place water quality requirements for the future. Once [it is] operational I intend to monitor closely the outcome of the changes to ensure no particular area or group has been unfairly disadvantaged by the changes. The council has been working closely with catchments and communities to resolve allocation issues. This has been very beneficial to date, which I am keen to continue and enhance, where possible.

2. During preliminary and feasibility stages, council involvement is crucial, in my view, to ensure community funding is spent well, gathering the necessary decision-making information. Any further involvement should then be case-by-case but must substantially benefit all sectors of the community.

Gerrard Eckhoff
Gerrard Eckhoff
Gerrard Eckhoff (66)
Retired farmer

1. The short answer is yes. It is difficult but good outcomes are being achieved.

2. The council is there to advise and assist with its expertise and can financially assist with a feasibility study. The ORC cannot be a regulator and an investor in an irrigation scheme, as the inherent conflict of interest makes that dual role impossible.


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