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A water allocation plan for the Waitaki catchment that arose from a cancelled power scheme is to be reviewed, but some people are worried it will mean environmental safeguards for the river are lowered.
The first step leading to a draft of proposed changes to the Waitaki catchment water allocation regional plan was taken by a community committee meeting in Waimate on Thursday.
The Lower Waitaki South Coastal Zone Committee of community representatives appointed by Environment Canterbury (ECan), the Waitaki and Waimate District Councils has had a working group investigating what needs to be changed.
It has now asked ECan to start the change process, at the same time getting a letter from people who were involved in the preparation of the original plan expressing "deep concern" at the proposed changes.
Committee chairman Robin Murphy said when contacted yesterday the committee had already consulted with some community groups and stakeholders when it considered what changes could be made.
It had now asked ECan to prepare a draft set of allocation plan provisions to implement the proposed changes, sort out anomalies as well as add a section about water quality that was never part of the board's brief.
The hope is to have ECan complete plan changes by October next year.
A draft of changes would be brought back to the committee for discussion, and consultation would continue with stakeholders and interested parties.
Mr Murphy also said any changes would follow Resource Management Act processes, which included public submissions.
However, proposed changes have been criticised by five men involved in fighting to protect the river from Meridian Energy's Project Aqua power scheme in 2001 and the water allocation process in 2005, but supported by an organisation representing Waimate and North Otago irrigators.
The men - Dugald MacTavish, Brian Turner, John Highton, Bruce Parker, Jerry Walton and Alan Holmquist - were "interested primarily in maintaining the in-stream values of the lower Waitaki" and said the allocation plan was "a social contract", developed after a "huge and and stressful undertaking" by the community.
They feared the minimum flow of 150 cumecs in the lower river would change, dropping to 110 cumecs between October and March for no more than 10 days in any one period.
"By this change, up to 40 cumecs of the in-stream allocation is transferred to the hydro generation allocation over the critical summer period," they said.
While this would enhance Meridian's generation, the 40 cumecs was part of maintaining the river's ecology and values.
Other issues were how the committee proposed to use some water from the catchment to improve other South Canterbury streams and changing the status of power stations in terms of resource consents.
The Waitaki Irrigators' Collective was supportive of the proposal to amend the plan, policy manager Elizabeth Soal considering the process the committee had followed to be robust.
"The plan as written several years ago and the consenting environment that exists in 2012 do not align," she said.
The committee had developed a pragmatic solution which sought to balance the different values of the river, just as the original board sought to do.
"The proposal will also go through a formal public consultation process which will further strengthen the basis of the changes that are eventually made," Ms Soal said.
The solution developed allows irrigators and their shareholders to plan effectively for the future by removing a degree of uncertainty which existed in the current planning framework.
What is the Waitaki catchment water allocation regional plan?
• In 2003, the Labour government passed special legislation setting up a five-member board to allocate water in the Waitaki catchment under pressure from Meridian Energy's Project Aqua power scheme.
• That, along with other issues, led Meridian to cancel in March, 2004, the controversial scheme.
• The board released the Waitaki catchment water allocation regional plan in 2005. The plan became a regional plan under Environment Canterbury and operative in 2006.
• Issues with the plan arose during resource consent hearings after that date, and will be looked at as part of the changes.
• Any changes are subject to the Resource Management Act, which will include public notification, the chance for submissions and a hearing of submissions.
• The aim is to complete that by October next year.