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Major irrigation companies on the lower Waitaki River have challenged an Environment Canterbury decision to grant water for a new irrigation scheme for Waimate which could cost up to $200 million to build.
The Meridian Energy-South Canterbury Irrigation Trust Hunter Downs irrigation scheme was granted a resource consent in April to take up to 20.5cumecs of water from the lower river near Ikawai and use it to irrigate up to 40,000ha in the Waimate district.
However, four appeals, all involving multiple parties, have now been filed with the Environment Court and will be the subject of a pre-hearing in Christchurch, tentatively set down for August 4.
One of those appeals is from the Lower Waitaki Irrigation Company, Upper Waitaki Community Irrigation Company, Morven Glenavy Ikawai Irrigation Company, North Otago Irrigation Company and Maerewhenua District Water Resource Company, which combined are the biggest users of water below the Waitaki dam.
Ngai Tahu has also lodged an appeal, as have three farms.
The irrigation companies and farms are worried about the effect granting water for Hunter Downs will have on existing users. They say conditions on the Hunter Downs consent affect the priority they have to take water under their consents.
A condition which stipulates water should be shared by Hunter Downs and existing irrigation schemes between 152cumecs and 175.5cumecs does not maintain the existing priority they have.
They want the court to amend conditions that accord them the superior priority they have over Hunter Downs.
Ngai Tahu's appeal, which incorporates the Arowhenua, Waihao and Moeraki runanga, wants the court to overturn the consent.
Many of the smaller catchments and the Wainono Lagoon within the irrigation scheme's area would be affected, the appeal said. These were highly valued and important to Ngai Tahu's cultural values, beliefs and practices.
"The scheme will adversely affect the lower Waitaki-South Canterbury cultural landscape," Ngai Tahu said.
The decision failed to recognise the importance of Ngai Tahu's relationship and the effect a reduction in water quality throughout the affected area would have on it.
Mitigation or mediation would be insufficient to address the effect on Ngai Tahu values.
The proposal would also mix waters between catchments, with a significant effect on Ngai Tahu's cultural wellbeing.
Hunter Downs would be "the second- or third-largest irrigation scheme in New Zealand" and the science and investigations supporting it, particularly in relation to Ngai Tahu's values, were inadequate.
The appeals have been assigned to Judge Jon Jackson, who has previously been involved with water allocation from the lower Waitaki River.
Judge Jackson, along with three commissioners, heard and decided on appeals against the Meridian Energy Ltd north bank tunnel electricity scheme, which wanted up to 260cumecs of water from the lower Waitaki River for a 32km tunnel between the Waitaki dam and Stonewall with one power house.
An interim decision in September granted consents for the scheme, subject to agreement between all the parties on some conditions.