Neighbours fighting bid to gain water permits

Jef Desbecker, with wife Robina Bodle, argued granting a permit to take water from two Arrow...
Jef Desbecker, with wife Robina Bodle, argued granting a permit to take water from two Arrow River tributaries could damage ecosystems and leave others without access, during a resource consent hearing at the Mercure Hotel in Queenstown yesterday. PHOTO: MATTHEW MCKEW
Sir Russell Coutts and a former Queenstown tourism identity are facing a battle with their neighbours, who include an English aristocrat, over plans to take water from two Wakatipu creeks.

Both applicants and submitters were heard as part of an Otago Regional Council resource consent hearing in Queenstown yesterday.

Russell Coutts.
Sir Russell Coutts.
Long-term Crown Tce resident Jef Desbecker claimed, if successful, the application to take water from the Royal Burn North Branch and New Chums Creek — tributaries of the Arrow River — would destroy two large water ecosystems.

Sir Russell, as part of BSTGT Ltd, along with the trustees of the A.P. McQuilkin Family Trust, the family trust of former Real Journey’s commercial director Tony McQuilkin, has sought permission to take water to irrigate a private golf course, turf-growing operation and pastoral land beside Glencoe Rd in Arrow Junction.

It came ahead of the expiry of five permits in October, which allow water to be withdrawn via pipes, channels and other methods.

Experts for the applicants suggested there would be minimal impact on the rivers, as no native fish or sensitive wildlife were present.

The only wildlife to be found were introduced brown trout and macroinvertebrates, which could repopulate following dry spells, hydrology and ecology expert Matt Hickey said.

Berri Schroder of nearby Bloomsbury Stud argued the risk to amphibians in the area had not been considered.

Billionaire Henrietta Russell, Duchess of Bedford, is also a shareholder in Bloomsbury Stud.

Mr Schroder further claimed development in the area had already resulted in the creeks drying up at times and spoke against the amount of water applied for.

Mr Desbecker, who has lived in the area for 30 years, later told the Otago Daily Times algae could be seen because of the reduced flow, under the current permits allowing BSTGT Ltd to withdraw water.

He said nobody had been able to provide assurances on the potential impact on aquifers and residents’ wells.

During the hearing, Mr Desbecker said the 1,214,683,000 litres, or 38.5 litres per second, requested annually, could become 77 litres per second if it was mainly used in the summer — when irrigation was most needed.

“These figures have no regard for the health of the creeks, the other downstream users, or anything other than taking all the water.”

The applicants wanted to withdraw water from three take points.

Mr Desbecker claimed the application “blatantly flies in the face” of national fresh-water policies introduced in September last year, designed to protect and improve water bodies.

Furthermore, Mr Desbecker said he feared for wetlands in the area should the application be granted and alleged the applicants were already taking more water from the area than their existing permits allowed.

Other submitters suggested chemicals used to maintain a golf course would pollute the water bodies, claiming this was the case at Lake Hayes.

Mr Hickey said comparisons with Lake Hayes were not valid given the historical pollution and degradation of the lake by agriculture and industry.

Final submissions are expected today before commissioner Rob van Voorthuysen makes his report.

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