Irrigation guarantee hopes of Waitaki farmers

Farmers using water from the lower Waitaki River hope to reach a deal with Meridian Energy Ltd to ensure their irrigation supply remains 100% reliable.

Details of a proposed agreement between the Mid River New Applicants' Group representing irrigators and Meridian were revealed at an Environment Canterbury (ECan) hearing in Oamaru yesterday.

Meridian had offered to guarantee reliability when it presented evidence last year to build its proposed north bank tunnel concept (NBTC) power scheme on the lower Waitaki River between the Waitaki dam and Stonewall, near Ikawai.

Irrigators fear their current almost 100% supply of water could be lost if Meridian builds the power scheme.

That would have a big impact on current farming practices and viability.

The applicant group's legal counsel, Nicholas Davidson QC, said the group was asking Meridian to supply from the Waitaki dam sufficient water over the minimum environmental flow set for the river to guarantee a 100% reliability of irrigation water further downstream.

That would apply if Meridian built the tunnel.

Duntroon farmer and chairman of the Maerewhenua District Water Resource Company Matt Ross emphasised how important reliable irrigation was.

"Irrigation needs to be highly reliable in order for investment to be made," he said.

It also encouraged an efficient use of water, rather than having to catch up if irrigation was not available or restricted, he said.

Mr Davidson said information had been exchanged with Meridian and a proposed agreement sent to it about two weeks ago.

While those negotiations did not form part of the hearing, if agreement was reached it would be put to the hearings panel for its consideration, he said.

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