Hearing for water consents ending

A marathon resource consent hearing spanning seven months to determine which of 110 applications will get water, mostly for irrigation, from the upper Waitaki catchment is nearing an end. 

They include applications by three companies - Southdown Holdings Ltd, Williamson Holdings Ltd and Five Rivers Ltd - for water to develop 16 dairy farms with up to 17,850 cows on three properties in the Omarama and Ohau areas.

The hearing, by four independent commissioners appointed by Environment Canterbury (ECan), started in September last year, and has so far sat for 13 weeks, with breaks in between including over Christmas-New Year.

The final two weeks have been set down in Christchurch from Monday, April 19, which will include rights of reply from applicants or their legal counsels, along with reports by ECan staff and consultants.

The panel of Christchurch lawyer Paul Rogers (chairman), Kaiapoi environmental consultant Mike Bowden, cultural authority Edward Ellison, of the Otago Peninsula, and water quality consultant Jim Cooke, of Wellington, is considering 60 water and 50 associated land-use and discharge applications, some of which were called in by the government in 2004 during the debate over the Meridian Energy Project Aqua power scheme.

The applications were put on hold, along with others for the lower Waitaki River, while the government-appointed Waitaki Catchment Water Allocation Board prepared the Waitaki catchment water allocation plan.

Once the plan became operative, ECan started processing the applications and, in August and September 2008, considered 56 applications to use water from the lower Waitaki catchment (below the Waitaki dam).

They included the Meridian north bank tunnel power scheme and the Hunter Downs irrigation scheme.

Now, the hearing for the upper Waitaki (above the Waitaki dam) catchment applications is due to be completed by the end of this month, subject to any unforeseen delays.

The hearing has been bedevilled by controversy, ranging from opposition to more irrigation in the Omarama, Ohau and Mackenzie Basins "greening" the high country landscape to claims of "factory farming" surrounding the dairy farm developments because cows would be housed in cubicles.

On April 19, the panel will hear from staff, along with submitters' comments on amended farm-management plans already tabled by the three dairy farm companies.

Those plans, amended at the request of the panel, outline alternative farming uses for the dairy farms proposed by the companies.

That week will also see the start of hearing rights of replies by legal counsel, including Mackenzie Water Research Ltd (a group set up by some applicants to jointly present expert evidence), the Upper Waitaki Applicants Group and individual applicants.

From Monday, April 26, the panel will hear the right of reply on behalf of Southdown Holdings, Williamson Holdings and Five River on the dairy farm proposals.

Three spare days, if needed, have been allocated from April 28-30 to complete the hearing.

The panel will then adjourn the hearing to start making decisions on the applications.

The panel's deliberations are not affected by the Government's decision on March 31 to sack the Environment Canterbury regional council and replace it with up to seven commissioners to oversee management of Canterbury's freshwater resources.

Special legislation passed last week in Parliament to replace the ECan council exempted resource consent applications which were at present being processed or heard, allowing the upper Waitaki panel to continue and make decisions.

- david.bruce@odt.co.nz


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