Cash sought to stop water allocation change

Ian McIlraith.
Ian McIlraith.
An ''urgent request'' for about $30,000 has been launched by a group opposed to any changes to a water allocation plan for the Waitaki River, including lowering the minimum flow.

The ''SOS for the Waitaki River'' plea comes from the Lower Waitaki River Management Society which has lodged a submission against ''plan change 3'' to the Waitaki catchment water allocation regional plan proposed by Environment Canterbury (ECan).

It is one of about 550 submissions, about 80% of which oppose the change.

Society chairman Ian McIlraith said to effectively oppose the plan change, it needed to raise at least $30,000.

That would provide some ''basic remuneration'' for legal and scientific experts who had agreed to help at discounted rates, and some at no charge.

''This Waitaki is one of New Zealand's truly great rivers. At this critical juncture, help to secure its future is greatly appreciated,'' he said.

The water allocation plan was prepared in 2005 by a government-appointed board, after considering about 1300 submissions, when the river was under pressure from the Project Aqua power scheme.

It allocated water throughout the catchment for various uses, set a minimum flow for the lower Waitaki River of 150cumecs at the sea and required Meridian Energy Ltd from 2025 to release water above that to maintain irrigation reliability.

But the plan now proposes to have minimum flows between 102cumecs and 150cumecs, provide assured reliability for irrigation and more security when existing resource consents come up for renewal.

Mr McIlraith said the 2005 plan was ''a democratic social contract'' which ECan now wanted to break.

The society considered the proposed change was not in the best wider or longer-term interests of the river.

''Frequent river users will know that most of the important indicators of river health, including nutrient and bacteria levels and didymo, have deteriorated since 2005,'' he said.

Salmon catch numbers over the past decade had averaged fewer than 1000 a year, among the lowest on record. The importance of an adequate flow had never been greater.

In 2009, the society sought and secured strong financial support from the community in its opposition to some of the conditions in resource consents to take water from the lower Waitaki River for the Hunter Downs irrigation scheme in the Waimate district.

Because that was to the Environment Court, donations were supplemented by a grant from the Ministry for the Environment.

''This is not the case this time,'' Mr McIlraith said.

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