Irrigation change 'win-win outcome'

Farmers have spent ''tens of thousands of dollars'' and considerable time on a plan to cut the irrigation take from the Maerewhenua River, an Environment Canterbury hearing was told in Oamaru yesterday.

Drawn up between the community and Environment Canterbury (ECan), it involves some farmers shifting irrigation takes to the Waitaki River to leave more water in the Maerewhenua, one of New Zealand's outstanding small river fisheries.

ECan has instigated a plan change to the Waitaki Catchment Water Allocation Regional Plan, prepared in 2005, to reduce water allowed for irrigation from the Maerewhenua River and some other provisions.

Maerewhenua farmer David Ruddenklau said the 2005 plan was ''impractical and discriminatory'' and farmers had become increasingly frustrated at the prolonged time taken to have it changed.

''For the past three years, we ... have consulted with a multitude of associates and experts, involving a huge amount of time, meetings and tens of thousands of dollars,'' he said.

Dairy farmer Don Conlan said the 2005 plan had ''significant and somewhat daunting'' implications.

While the plan change had turned the situation into a positive one, it had come at a cost, especially to farmers changing to water from Waitaki River.

''They have spent a large sum of money to make all this possible,'' he said.

Maerewhenua District Water Resource Company has expanded its scheme from its intake on the Waitaki River to supply irrigators at present using the Maerewhenua.

Former company chairman Kelvin Weir said the company had invested $6 million upgrading its scheme, which included the cost of the expansion.

''I can see no negatives to what has been done,'' which he described as a ''win-win outcome''.

Waitaki Independent Irrigators Incorporated chairman Matt Ross said implementing the 2005 plan's provisions for the Maerewhenua would have severe economic consequences and make present land use and farming practices unviable.

The plan change would be a positive step for the Maerewhenua River and its community, he said.

The Central South Island Fish and Game Council supported the plan change.

Hydrologist Keri Johnston said the 2005 allocation for the Maerewhenua River was never going to work, a major disconnect between what the plan envisaged and what actually happened.

Irrigators had supported the change ''all the way through'' and the process was a model for collaborative catchment management, which could be a model applied in other areas, she said.

ECan consultant planner Angela Fenemor (no relation to Commissioner Fenemor) said the plan change was part of a wider package.

By reducing the water allocated to irrigation from the Maerewhenua, the benefits would remain with the river rather than going to other users, she said.

The Waitaki Catchment Water Allocation Regional Plan was drawn up by a government-appointed board in 2005 after the Project Aqua power scheme proposed by Meridian Energy Ltd was cancelled.

The plan change proposes reducing the allocation for irrigation from 400 litres per second to 200 l/sec to ensure what farmers are giving up will stay in the river and not be used by someone else.

Of that 200 l/sec, 163 l/sec will be irrigation and the rest recreation and domestic use.

At present, irrigation uses 685 l/sec under existing resource consents, but will be reduced by changing the source of water.

Four irrigation consents will be transferred to the Waitaki River, leaving seven on the Maerewhenua.

The original plan's minimum flow before abstraction has to stop remains at 400 l/sec.

There were 17 public submissions on the change, 11 in support, four opposed and two partially in support.



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